5 Simple Ways to Keep Your Cool During Workplace Conflicts

Published on
Sep 12, 2022
Written by
Coryne Forest

One of my core values is harmony.

It’s a perfectly lovely value to have, but it does have onemajor downside.  It means I don’t likeconflict. Especially workplace conflict.

Oh, I don’t think anyone actually likes conflict, butwhen you value harmony, dealing with workplace conflict can be extra hard todo.  It’s like having to go against yourvalue in order to get back to living your value.  Let’s just say it causes a lot of internalstrife!

Yet, conflict is inevitable if you deal with otherpeople.  You can’t even escape it withthe humans that you created, so why do people think they can work with alltheir coworkers in perpetual bliss and harmony?

Whether you’re the CEO or a cubicle dweller, chances areyou’ve had a workplace conflict. While some good-natured debate can be a goodthing, sometimes these conflicts get overheated fast. Whether you’re in managementor not, you’re going to need to know what to do when conflict arises. Add tothat the fact that you might be called upon to work with the person with whom you’rein conflict with again in the very near future and suddenly knowing how to keepyour cool during workplace conflicts becomes one of those important ‘must-have’skills if you expect to succeed in your job.

How do you do that?

1. Know when to walk away.
Leaving is something of an art. The last thing you want is for the otherperson to think you're not listening to what they have to say. But everyargument reaches that point where no one is saying anything new. That is thepoint to take a break. It’s about here that things start to get personal, andindeed uncomfortable or even ugly, so you want to take a break before that happens.But even this takes skill. Excuse yourself quietly. It's not the time for thedramatic exit.

A calm “we’re hashing over the same ground; let’s table thisfor now.” Can go a long way to working through the conflict before therelationship is irreparably damaged.

2. Calm down. Clearing your head will help you tobe both calmer and more rational. Once you’ve removed yourself from thesituation, then take a few minutes for yourself. Breathe deeply. Practicemindfulness or even meditation until you’re in a better place and able to be incontrol of yourself. Find that inner peace.

Workplace conflict stimulates the limbic system in our brain,the part that governs our emotions.  Ifwe want to think through things clearly, we have to clear the emotional “gutreactions” and time is an excellent way to get to that space.

3. Get busy. For some people, being emotionallywrought leads toward a need for activity. If you’re one of these people, thenuse this energy to get some work done. Studies have shown that people can bevery productive when they’ve been worked up. Also,consider that by channeling all that emotional energy into work you’ll findthat you’re able to be very focused and even more productive than usual.

It’s almost like an escape mechanism for our brain.  Our brain is telling us if we get uber busyon this, we can forget all about that – at least for a littlewhile.  And again, it gives the brain achance to move from limbic system reactions to prefrontal cortex thoughtfulactions.

4. Practice empathy. It’s not always easy to put yourselfin the other person’s shoes, but it does help. Realize that there might besomething more going on with the other person than there appears to be on thesurface. That will not only help you to calm down, but also might show you apossible solution, or at least a new way to address the other person in a waythat’s respectful and more compassionate. Keep in mind that your insights mightwell show you that the problem is with you.

One of the best ways I know to develop more empathy is totalk to a coach.  That neutral,third-party view is more likely to see nuances you might have missed and askyou the hard questions that you might not want to ask yourself. Or even thinkto ask yourself!

If your company or organization has one, a conflict mediatoris a great asset.  They also act as thatoutside, neutral party and can help cut through the emotions of asituation.  I don’t know if I wasfortunate or not, but that is a role I had to play when I was in OrganizationDevelopment.  You would think thatsomeone who didn’t like conflict would be a terrible mediator, but the oppositewas quite true.  By valuing harmony, I wouldwork tirelessly to resolve it with others!

5. Reconcile. Try apologizing. Recognize that itdoes take two people to get into an argument. Apologizing acknowledges the partthat you’ve played in the situation and invites the other person to do thesame. In the end, the best way to cool a situation is to resolve it.

Naturally, if there’s even a remote possibility that you willhave to work with this person again, reconciling the workplace conflict has tobe a priority. It can be hard, especially if you just don’t like theperson.  But saying you’re sorry foryour part in the situation isn’t saying they were right and you were wrong.  It’s just acknowledging that you had a partin it and you are open to finding a way to work together in the future.

Having a conflict may be inevitable. How you deal with aworkplace conflict says a great deal about you as a person and a great dealabout you as a co-worker. Being able to keep your cool in trying situations isan invaluable skill and one well worth cultivating, especially in the workworld.

Leaving you with this from the lighter side: I wouldn’t say Ipunched him!  I just gave him athree-dimensional emoticon!

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