Student Services

May 11, 2020

How to Expand Capacity in Times of Crisis by Marlene Chism

As trite as it sounds, there are always amazing personal growth opportunities in every crisis. Leading in a COVID-19 economy requires a higher level of conflict capacity than leading when things are stable. There’s never been a better time than the present moment to consciously increase conflict capacity. This post explains why the opportunity is now, and what you can do to increase your own conflict capacity.

Why now?

At the beginning of a crisis, people tend to band together and hyper focus on survival, but once the smoke clears, every shape and sort of conflict comes to the surface. Issues that might have taken years to see or address appear seemingly overnight in full spotlight.

Recently a middle manager said to me, “I dislike the new COO so much that I dread going to work. After two decades of using work to escape my unhappy marriage, now I have nowhere to run and nowhere to hide.”

A common thread for this manager is the relationship issues at home and at work.

For the organization, multifaced issues are rising to the surface: Ineffective leadership, poor communication and an owner failing to prepare managers for a changing of the guard.

This new environment triggers the strongest emotions that lead to aggression or avoidance. There’s no time like the present for some intense, boot-camp style personal growth to expand conflict capacity.

What is conflict capacity?

Conflict capacity is the ability to stay with difficult situations without resorting to the three coping mechanisms: Fight, flight or freeze, all normal tendencies during stress. (I can’t tell you how many leaders have reached out asking for help with anger management during the quarantine.) When we are stretched to our limits, we exhibit impatience, anger, and defensiveness, not the traits we need to lead during times of crisis.

The truth about conflict that isn’t taught in the textbooks is this: All conflict is first about your own inner conflict, not just a disagreement with another person. The skill is about the ability to be present to difficult thoughts and emotions instead of reacting or retreating. Until you understand your own internal conflict, you’ll struggle to see that the root of conflict is always internal misalignment rather than dealing with high-conflict people.

How to increase conflict capacity: In order to expand your capacity, you have to first identify your patterns. Next, you must create a plan and build in some space between stimulus and response so you can change your programmed reaction.

Identifying patterns might be a bit emotionally painful, but try not to judge yourself. Instead, interpret your discomfort as becoming more aware. You can’t change what you don’t acknowledge, so the first step is an acknowledgement.

For example, aggression. Several things can trigger aggressiveness including being tired, another person’s defensiveness or being unfairly judged.

So, write down your pattern to bring it into awareness. What is your trigger, and how do you typically react when you lose capacity?

Now that you know your pattern, create a plan. For example, if your usual response is to avoid someone, your plan is to stay present to them. If they criticize you, your plan is to say, “Tell me more,” instead of retreating or defending. Then breathe.

The key is to train yourself to get in front of the “painful experience” instead of releasing your pressure valve or triggering your defense mechanism.

This is the moment that you create a space between stimulus and response.

Another way to build space is to buy time. If you start to feel the pressure build up and you feel the need to defend or get argumentative, simply say, “I appreciate what you’ve shared, and I want to respond, but I want to be thoughtful about it. Can we schedule time to talk tomorrow?”

Want to get there faster? Then you need to commit to a practice. Identify your nemesis. This is the person who drives you crazy. Now decide instead of avoiding them, to let them become your best teacher. This is all about exposure therapy instead of academic understanding. Expose yourself to discomfort, and use your plan to experiment to see if you can change your patterns.


In a time of crisis, we need stability, direction, safety and clarity. Without these traits, your relationship issues will come to the surface for attention. Once the immediate crisis is over and the dust settles, the spotlight shines brightly on inadequacies in our personal and professional lives. There’s no better time than a crisis to increase your conflict capacity.

Marlene Chism is a consultant, international speaker and the author of "Stop Workplace Drama" (Wiley 2011), "No-Drama Leadership" (Bibliomotion 2015) and "7 Ways to Stop Drama in Your Healthcare Practice" (Greenbranch 2018) and an advanced practitioner of Narrative Coaching. Connect with Chism via LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter and at

If you enjoyed this article, sign up for SmartBrief’s free e-mails on leadership, career development and HR, among SmartBrief's more than 200 industry-focused newsletters.

Do you have Your Cybersafety Training complete? Do the people you work with have their's complete?

If not, you still have a few days. The training is due this Friday, May 15th!! Go to KCloud, click on employee resources and then Safe Schools to access the training. Be sure to spread the word, so that everyone can get their training complete. Thanks!!!

Assistant Principal Updates and Information

  • Transfer window has been extended through Friday, May 22.

  • Mark your calendar! Keller U classes will be posted on May 22nd!!!

  • Great resources for families in the areas of counseling and SEL. These sites are updated often:
1. New SEL Counseling Families

2. Counseling Activities for Families

3. Keller Counseling Support for KISD Staff

Pre-K Resources

The Early Learning Department has created great resources for administrators, counselors, and teachers to support the expansion and implementation of Full-Day Pre-K in Keller. You may access the tab in Cloud. Click here to access the resources and here to access the administrator training. Great stuff!

Intervention Counseling Assistance for Staff

Keller ISD’s Intervention Counseling Department will be offering to all employees the opportunity to take part in ongoing, virtual support groups specific to their needs.

These support groups will allow staff to further process and debrief with others that share similar issues during this unprecedented time.

Two groups will be available each week, beginning at 3 p.m. Click the following links to join one of the respective groups on Zoom at their designated time:

3 p.m. Thursday, May 14 | Caregivers of Aging Parents (PW: 237960)

3 p.m. Thursday, May 14 | Empty Nesters (PW: HBy12M0a)

During this time of quarantine with COVID-19, Intervention Counseling is continuing to search for ways to support the social emotional needs of KISD employees.

If you have any questions, please contact Director of Counseling Intervention Services Marcene Weatherall at

Dallas Holocaust - Virtual Tour of Civil RIghts

The Cultural of Belonging Committee and Social Studies Department has brought in and partnered with the Dallas Holocaust Museum. The new facility is inspiring and amazing. For now, they are offering many on-line resources including a virtual tour - check it out if you get a chance

Special Education Training Opportunities

See the flyer below for all the training dates and titles. Please click on the following to sign up for training and access the recordings we will post each week:

  • Sign up for the training you are interested in and a zoom link will be sent. Click here

Big picture

Aeries - Update

If you have not attended an Aeries training class yet and will need to access the student information system occasionally, this is the class for you. We have designed a 1 hour tutorial to demonstrate navigation in Aeries to review student information. There are 8 sessions of this overview being held over the next 4 weeks. Please join us in the session that best fits your schedule. The classes are also available in Eduphoria. If you forget to sign-up ahead of time, join us anyway. We'll record attendance during the class.

Thursday, May 14, 2020

9:00 – 10:00am CDT

Basic Overview of Aeries for Read-Only Users

Lara Clickner

1:00 – 2:00pm CDT

Basic Overview of Aeries for Read-Only Users

Sonia Cassatt

Thursday, May 21, 2020

9:00 – 10:00am CDT

Basic Overview of Aeries for Read-Only Users

Lindi Dreibelbis

1:00 – 2:00pm CDT

Basic Overview of Aeries for Read-Only Users

Thursday, May 28, 2020

9:00 – 10:00am CDT

Basic Overview of Aeries for Read-Only Users

Lindi Dreibelbis

1:00 – 2:00pm

Basic Overview of Aeries for Read-Only Users

Thursday, June 4, 2020

9:00 – 10:00am CDT

Basic Overview of Aeries for Read-Only Users

Lindi Dreibelbis

Contact Us

Dustin Blank - Assistant Superintendent of Student Services X1061

Joe Baker - Area Director of Student Services X1083

Stephanie Cantu - Student Services Assistant X 1115

Laura Lockhart - Area Director of Student Services X 1105