Keeping Your Cool During Conflict

It’s easy to get carried away during the heat of battle. Most of us remember the night when a past-his-prime Mike Tyson took the only thing — other than a solid, early-round beating — that he could get from Evander Holyfield: a mouthful of Holyfield’s ear. Cannibalism is, for obvious HR reasons, probably a rare event at your office, but workplace conflicts can nonetheless resemble hand-to-hand combat, replete with hurt feelings, emotional black-eyes and permanently damaged relationships.

Follow these tips, provided by Peg Pickering in her book How to Handle Conflict & Confrontation, and you’ll remain on collegial terms after the final bell rings.

All Hands on Deck!
Don’t be afraid to encourage your team to think like a manager during a crisis, Pickering advises. “Shared responsibility,” she writes, “increases ownership.” Encourage responses to events that promote cooperative rather than isolated decision-making.

Listen Up
According to Pickering, poor listening is the #1 cause of office conflict. Not listening causes miscommunication, which in turn creates completed projects that require substantial revision.

Take a Step Back, Jack
Don’t be in a rush to judgment. If things start to get heated, declare a moratorium on proceedings, take some off-time for analysis. The extra time for re-evaluation will allow for a deep, collective breath that will help everyone involved regain a dispassionate and objective perspective before they return to the negotiating table. Ultimately, Pickering reminds her readers, relationships are more important than decisions. Winning the battle, in other words, may cost you the interpersonal war.

Everyone’s Right … Sort of
Not to go all Laurence Fishburne-in-The-Matrix on you, but Pickering draws on a philosophical concept called “conditional truth” as a useful tool for cooling off the most fiery stages of conflict. “Conditional truth,” she relates, “is a philosophical acceptance that the position any person takes is accurate and in the best interest of the company.” Someone says the sky is falling? You don’t have to hide beneath the desk, but you should acknowledge that, for the person speaking at least, the perception is valid and worth listening to.

Focus, Focus, Focus
Jack, seated to your left, recently cc’d your boss on an email to you about his dissatisfaction with your presentation. To your right, annoyingly tapping her pen in anticipation, sits Jill. You wonder how she managed to fit both herself and her herculean ego through the meeting-room door.
During conflict, it’s easy to get stalemated or sidetracked by your negative opinions of the people around you. But, keep in mind, the people aren’t the dilemma that requires solving — they’ll be around, annoying you, far after the issue’s resolved. Keep focused what’s in front of you, not what’s to the side and at the head of the meeting table.