Cope with Conflict in Five Healthy Steps

Posted onCategoriesLeadership Development, Team Member Engagement

Do you ever struggle to control your negative emotions when encountering conflict with a co-worker, friend or even your boss?  Often times, people lash out or engage in an unproductive round of sparring which proves fruitless and may even destroy the relationship.  Effectively managing conflict requires emotional intelligence and the following steps to maintain an open, versus oppressive, dialogue.

Commence breathing deeply.  When a conflict arises, whether it’s a disagreement about opinions, values or preferences, our bodies have both physiological and psychological responses.  Think about the last time someone said something that infuriated you.  Most likely, you could feel your blood pressure increase and your palms became sweaty. This is because the two amygdalae you have on either side of your brain perceived a threat and properly responded by releasing adrenaline and cortisol into your system.  To counteract these physiological effects, begin taking smooth, rhythmic and deep breaths which will stop the release of these stress hormones.

Hone in on your body language.  As you breathe, bring awareness to your non-verbal communication.  Relax your shoulders and open your hands instead of, for example, folding your arms or pressing on your temples since these actions communicate defensiveness and aggravation.  On the contrary, unfold your arms and open your hands to demonstrate that you are open to whatever the other person has to say. 

Interpret what is truly being said.  It’s easy to jump to conclusions and become angry without fully understanding what the other person is saying.  Sometimes, people become so unnerved that they launch into a verbal attack which has nothing to do with the topic at hand.  Dale Carnegie said, “Any fool can criticize, complain, and condemn—and most fools do.  But it takes character and self-control to be understanding and forgiving.”  Dissolving disputes in a healthy manner requires actively listening to understand instead of torespond.  Instead of retaliating, ask clarifying questions to ensure you have all of the facts and understand the other person’s perspective. 

Lower your voice.  A simple way to learn the impact of tone and volume is to say, “I love you,” two ways.  First, say it as you normally would—in a soft, heartfelt manner.  Then, shout it angrily.  As you will hear, the tone of your voice negates what is typically a very positive and loving message.  As you navigate conflict, try to keep your voice low and its tone pleasant to avoid scrambling the true meaning of what you are saying

Let go.  Unfortunately, sometimes it’s impossible to reach an agreement in which case your best move is to respectively disengage and move on.  Dale Carnegie’s 11th Human Relations principle is, ‘Show respect for the other person’s opinion.  Never say, “You’re wrong.”’  Instead, you can respectfully exit the conflict by saying for example, “It seems that we are at an impasse.  At this point, I think it’s best that we agree to disagree and move on,” or propose revisiting the topic at a later date once more facts have been gathered.