5 Tips for Cooling Off in a Conflict

argueMy wife, Mary, and I have been married for forty-seven years and not once have we had an argument serious enough to consider divorce. Murder, yes, but divorce, never.
— Jack Benny, Comedian (1894-1974)

As with any marriage or long-term relationship, conflict with a coworker, supervisor, or manager is inevitable. Managed intelligently, conflict can turn from a hair-raising dilemma to an important building block toward progress and innovation. In her book How to Handle Conflict & Confrontation, Peg Pickering provides a list of “Five Emotional Don’ts” to help productively engage unavoidable office fisticuffs:
  1. Don’t Get in a Power Struggle.
    Pickering writes that “authority increases when you empower others instead of getting into power struggles.” Give away power, don’t hoard it. Avoid daily jousting sessions, and instead knight challengers to your authority. They’ll feel in control of the issues or events at hand, and you won’t have to go medieval on anyone.
  1. Don’t Detach From the Conflict.
    Ignoring a problem at the office can be like turning a blind eye to the leak in your basement. It may seem insignificant now, but in a week or two you may find yourself wading through a torrential mess. Pickering observes that tackling problems at their outset is a way to monitor and control conflict. Without demonstrable concern, she warns, there is no chance of discovering the potential opportunities embedded in many conflicts.
  1. Don’t Let Conflict Establish Your Agenda.
    With a busy schedule full of time-sensitive tasks, the slightest detour can wreak havoc on your project and time management. Pay close attention to how much time you spend on managing conflict. Pickering advises arriving at each conflict with the knowledge of the goals and direction in which you’d like to move. Identify and manage consistent offenders or woe-is-me employees who monopolize your time.
  1. Don’t “Awfulize.”
    Don’t bring your hippie paranoia to the negotiating table. The higher the intensity of the conflict, Pickering reminds us, the more we tend to assume worst-case scenarios and lose the perspective required to solve complex problems. Remember that people are rarely as benevolent as they might seem; and, conversely, they’re not nearly as cold-heartedly calculated as we sometimes assume.
  1. Don’t Be Fooled by Projection.
    You remember this tidbit from Psych 101: Projecting your emotions and insecurities onto other people can function as a spiritual release. Now translate that lesson to the workplace. The accusation that Person X slings across the boardroom table at Person Y may be nothing more than an unconscious attempt to veil his or her own flawed approach. You’ll be more effective during conflict if you keep this trusty psychological truism in mind.

It’s easy to shrink like a violet from office conflict. By avoiding emotional snafus, you’ll be blossoming into a staid, workplace warrior in no time.

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