1. Maintain your cool. Thomas Jefferson said: "Nothing gives one so much advantage over another as to remain always cool and unruffled under all circumstances." Many times work place conflict is impossible to avoid; however, you can stop its escalation by maintaining your cool in the eye of the storm. Getting angry is counter-productive and only escalates the conflict. "Keep calm and carry on."
2. Breathe. Yes, breathe! Conflict often makes us feel challenged, creating feelings of anger, frustration and being on edge. These feelings result in an unconscious change in our breathing pattern when stressed. Sometimes we hyperventilate (breathe too quickly); other times we hold our breath. Either way, it is impossible to deal with conflict in a healthy manner with all that carbon monoxide build up in our body.
Science shows regulating your breathing pattern helps reduce bodily stress. Therefore, make a conscious effort to practice deep breathing by breathing in and out of your mouth very slowly and methodically. Deep breathing clears your head and keeps the blood flowing. It allows you to stay calm and maintain your composure. Click here to read more about how deep breathing helps you stay calm when stressed.
3. Be Aware of Your Role. Conflict is not created in a vacuum. It takes at least two people to create and engage in conflict. No matter how small a part you may have played, you must find and acknowledge your role in the conflict. Remember, there is no such thing as a one-handed clap.
4. Ditch the Blame Game. Making accusations and blaming others for the conflict will only create more conflict; therefore avoid placing blaming. Instead, search for solution(s) to the conflict rather than wasting your time and energy determining who is at fault.
Hand wringing over what should of, would of, could of is an exercise in futility.
5. Look Forward and Move Ahead, Not Backwards. The solution to the conflict is in the present and the future, not in the past. Focus on what can be done, and by whom, to diminish and resolve the conflict. The goal is to reduce the conflict by solving the problem; this should be your focus. Everything else is a distraction.
6. Engage in "Active listening." Many times conflict could've been avoided if we really listened to each other. However, once you are in conflict the only way it will be resolved is to actively listen to each other so each party feels heard. Active listening encourages the speaker to continue talking because the speaker feels heard.
The best active listening techniques are verbal and non-verbal cues given to the speaker. For example, nod your head or say: "Ok", "yes, please continue", "I'm listening" etc. (These "active listening" clues are even more important when speaking over the phone.)
Being listened to is the cornerstone for trust. Without trust, conflict will never be resolved.
7. Think Before You Speak & Choose Your Words carefully. How many times have you said to yourself: "I can't believe I just said "that!" Or, "I can't believe he/she just said that!" Once the words are out of your mouth, there is no amount of: "I'm sorry" or "I didn't mean what I said" that will take away the sting -- or repair the damage done to the relationship.
Words can be sharper and more cutting than a knife. Choose the wrong word(s) and conflict increases. Choose the correct word(s) and you are on your way to resolving the conflict. Many times all this requires is taking a few moments to think before you speak.
8. Be Short and Sweet. State your case/suggestions/thoughts as succinctly and clearly as possible. Less is more, especially in volatile situations, so try not to babble. You want others to understand your perspective on the situation without making them feel bored defensive or lectured to.
9. Ask Open Ended Questions. Asking open-ended questions allow others to provide explanations and share their thoughts on what they believe is important to the situation, without getting defensive. For example, if you ask: "I'm not sure I understand what you were doing, it would be helpful if you could tell me more about your approach to the situation" will prompt a very different response than asking: "What exactly was your point?" When asking questions you don't want the listener(s) to feel interrogated or cross-examined.
10. Timing is Everything. It's very important to be aware of the overall mood and emotions of the person(s) with whom you are trying to solve a conflict with. If you scheduled a meeting and discover the person you are meeting with is not in a good mood or very stressed about something (which might have absolutely nothing to do with you) - reschedule the meeting. Do this no matter how inconvenient this might be to your schedule.
Dealing with conflict is difficult enough when people are in a good mood and often counter-productive when people are in a bad mood.
11. Address the Problem, Not the Person! This is critical for maintaining healthy work relationships. Keep the conversation focused on problem solving. Do not personally attack any of the people involved in the conflict. Character assassination will not only escalate the conflict, it will also damage your relationships. Let me repeat, address the problem, not the person.
12. All differences are not a conflict. Pick your battles. If you have kids, you know you can't get on their case about everything they do that drives you crazy. This same philosophy applies to work issues. Turning all differences into a conflict will only alienate you from your colleagues and/or superiors.
You don't want to win the battle only to lose the war.
View conflict as an opportunity to expand and grow your thinking and business. Can you think of a time when conflict actually grew your business once it was productively discussed and resolved?
"Conflict is inevitable but combat is optional."