Stop Resentment before It Becomes a Conflict

30 May


In addition to forgiving others for their personal attacks, Abraham Lincoln also tried to correct the conflicts that he had caused, either intentionally or inadvertently.

After hearing that he had apparently offended General Franz Sigel in a written letter, Lincoln quickly followed up with another:

“I ask pardon. If I do get up a little temper I have no sufficient time to keep it up.”[i]

In another military matter, Lincoln nipped in the bud possible angry words with newly promoted Brigadier General Benjamin Butler, who was a conservative Democrat.

Butler had felt the need to tell Lincoln that he had opposed Lincoln’s election, and that he would resign if ever he felt he could not support the President’s policies.

In response, Lincoln told Butler that if he ever disagreed with the President’s policies that he should “come and tell” him so that maybe he would not have to resign.[ii]

Lincoln also acted to dispose of any resentment he might be harboring, as well as the other party’s lingering ill thoughts.

After his first meeting with Frederick Douglass, the famous African-American orator and leader, Lincoln wanted to clear the air about a speech Douglass had made in which he criticized “the tardy, hesitating and vacillating policy of the President of the United States.”

Though he conceded that he might move with frustrating deliberation on large issues, Lincoln disputed the accusation of being wishy-washy.

“I think it cannot be shown that when I have once taken a position, I have ever retreated from it.”

Douglass was duly impressed, and would never forget his first meeting with Lincoln.[iii]

One of the greatest challenges of the Lincoln presidency was keeping foreign powers at bay while dealing with overwhelming domestic conflict.

At the beginning of the war, the Confederacy had entered into negotiations with the British to be officially recognized.

Secretary of State William Seward feared that Britain’s aristocracy would only be concerned with “feeding her factories” with the South’s cotton, so he drafted a scathing letter to be read to the British foreign secretary Lord John Russell.

Lincoln, who tried his best to refrain from saying anything, or writing a letter, in anger, carefully edited Seward’s work, modifying its potentially explosive language as Lincoln knew the country could ill afford a second war front with the greatest naval power in the world.

To convince the British that it would be a wrong move to enter into negotiations with Confederacy, he ended the letter by stating that the British would lose, “the sympathies and the affections of the only nation on whose sympathies and affections she has a claim.”[iv]

The results?

  • Great Britain eventually discarded the Confederacy, realizing that its recognition and support of the rebels would cause them far more harm than good.
  • Lincoln had natural enemies by virtue of the position that he had, but of all those who knew him personally, historians would be hard-pressed to find one who had a personal vendetta against him.

The lesson?

You’ve got enough problems.  Do you really want people holding a grudge against you, too?  All of the examples in this tip were resolved with a conversation or a letter.  Lincoln demonstrated that it’s just better to bury the hatchet and move on.

For more on halting resentment in your organization, see “How to Release and Prevent Resentment in Your Relationships” by Sarah Louise Gess at

[i] Goodwin, Doris Kearns (2005-10-25). Team of Rivals (p. 512). Simon & Schuster, Inc.. Kindle Edition.

[ii] Ibid   (p. 369)

[iii] Ibid   (p. 552)


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2 responses to “Stop Resentment before It Becomes a Conflict

  1. Alesandra Blakeston

    May 30, 2013 at 2:40 pm

    Interesting post! I have to say though, most of the resentment and misunderstandings in my team usually come from the modern day letter – email. People so often forget that tone can be absent or difficult to read in an email and so conflict ensues. As a result, I have a rule. If one of my team has upset another member of the team via email, they have until the end of the day to resolve it amicably. Otherwise I get involved. Lincoln’s letters, which you have so clearly shown are perfect examples of nipping conflict like this in the bud. Now all I have to do, is get my team to be conflict resolvers by email, instead of conflict starters!

    Thank you. Great post!

    • Lincoln Daily Management

      May 30, 2013 at 10:01 pm

      You’re welcome, Alesandra. And thank you for contributing that rule! I think it’s a very good one.

      I thoroughly understand where you’re coming from about email. Its a medium where people don’t put as much thought into how their message will be received before they send it. In the old days, we might let our letter sit around for awhile before folding it up and sealing it in an envelope; giving us time to think about how the recipient will react.

      Also, I think conflict is inevitable, especially when you have really talented members working together. Deadlines and other self-imposed pressures will make people more short-tempered. As Lincoln shows us, we can manage to keep the conflict from spiraling out of control.


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