Teamwork Leadership Banner
≡ Menu

Practical Suggestions – How Leaders Can Keep Their Cool During Conflict

{ 15 comments… add one }
Leaders keep their cool during conflict

Keeping a cool head during conflict can sometimes be difficult. Especially when it is perceived as or becomes personal. If you think there is a good chance there could be unhealthy conflict, here are a few basic tips that have worked for me.

1. Prepare. Think of every question that could be asked and your response to that question. Rehearse your responses out-loud. Rehearsing will help your confidence and calm nerves.

2. Stay relaxed. Keep your own voice calm and steady. Raising your voice will increase the chances of the conflict escalating. Once the conflict reaches this level you will have lost control, which will increase the likelihood that the issue will not be resolved at that moment.

3. Actively listen. Seek to understand first, and then to be understood. Really listen with an open heart. Genuinely consider the others point of view. Ask questions to clarify to ensure you understand.

4. Be firm. Restate what you heard, clear up any misunderstandings, and then stick to your guns. If something makes sense during the conflict, then of course, re-look at your position. However, don’t become wimpy either. Being firm is probably one of the most difficult things to do during a conflict, especially when you are really trying to be reasonable.

No matter how you cut it, conflict is difficult. Most people either avoid it or seem to enjoy it (which might be worse than avoiding it). But it is part of leadership.

Do you have other tips for handling conflict that could help our blogging audience? Please share them by commenting below so each of us can benefit by your ideas. Thank you.

If you enjoyed this post and would like to share it with your team, colleagues or anyone else, please “Share” it, “Tweet” it, “LinkedIn” it, “Email” it, “Google Plus” it, or “Like” it, by using one of the buttons below. Thanks friends!

Leave a Comment

  • Patricia Santos March 9, 2010, 9:37 am

    Hi Mike,
    Thanks for sharing this valuable information, in a very brief and simple way you pointed the key points that a leader must care and improve to really stay calm in a conflict/negotiation.
    In my opinion a conflict it’s always a negotiation because we are dealing usually with different point of views, hence I can only add the win-win behaviour, which somehow it’s implicit on your item 3. Actively listen.
    Another tip, for the persons that are comfortable in understanding and reading the corporal language it’s also to use it, not just to stay calm adopting postures that naturally leads to a relaxed state but also inducing the opponent to adopt them. A simple exemple it’s if your opponent is idly try to give him something to the hands, this will force him to uncross arms which naturally leads to a more receptive behaviour.
    Patricia Santos

  • kare anderson March 9, 2010, 11:28 am

    Your advice is so practical and concrete – thank you. For more great insights on active listening read the book Just Listen.
    Related to keeping cool, we often feel most tested when faced with “jerK” behavior so I’ve learned some lessons that may be helpful to others:

  • Mike Rogers March 9, 2010, 4:35 pm

    Thanks for your comments Patricia and Kare.
    I like your suggestion Patricia on changing the posture of the other person to become more receptive. Have you tried this before with success?
    Kare, thanks for the suggestion on the book.

  • Joanna Bleau March 10, 2010, 4:47 pm

    Hi, a simple suggestion in the moment of conflict works really well I find; at the moment you want to react either aggressively or defensively, take time to breathe in deeply, with your mouth closed, right down to your abodomen (as if you were smelling a flower), then let expel the air as if you were blowing out a candle, very gently. Just the time and attention doing this takes the sting out of the moment of anger or irritation.
    Another trick is, as you feel the heat rising, to remind yourself very gently that the other person has a right to their point of view, even if it is opposed to yours. This simple point has sometimes surprised me with its power.
    I’ve found with attention to both of these, I can sometimes unblock myself and allow alternative outcomes to emerge as both antagonists have a little more space to find a position that is less polarised.

  • Mike Rogers March 11, 2010, 8:29 am

    Thanks for your question Miriam. I think it is a good one. Maybe that person believes they are intimidating you a bit. The reality is some people will just be angry and the more they talk about it the angrier they become. There are just plain, fairly, hateful people out there. I think the last step for you would be the most critical in those situations – be firm and stay firm. But be calm and controlled as well and don’t let your emotions take control. This is probably the hardest thing to do when someone is really heated and angry. The more calm and controlled you are, the less base the person’s argument will have if they have lost control.
    Something I would suggest as well is to just let them explode. Let them keep going until they run out of energy. Once they are done talking, just be silent for 30 seconds (will seem like an eternity) or so and just look at them in the eyes. Let the silence point attention to their unruly behavior. Then make your point. This will clearly demonstrate you are in control and their behavior is inappropriate.
    I would be anxious to hear what others might do.

  • Mike Rogers March 11, 2010, 8:30 am

    Joanna, I think you make some excellent some suggestions. The important thing is to seperate yourself from your gut reactions and have perspective.

  • Miriam Kragness, PhD March 11, 2010, 8:28 am

    I can find no fault with your approach, Mike. Have tried to apply it myself and it usually works. Frankness is an asset, too; I’m willing to name the issue, and that usually deflates tension in the group. But maybe there’s a flaw in my execution; because on a couple of occasions, an already heated person seems to become even more incensed by a calm and considerate response (he or she says so), at which point the only advantage I’ve found is to manage the audience’s response to my behavior. Maybe for someone feeling a bit out of control, I remind them of their parent. Any other thoughts?

  • Jessica Manca July 25, 2012, 1:25 pm

    Enjoyed the article very much.
    For another tip during conflict and heated situations, I learned to apply “Mental Aikido.”
    Aikido is the martial art form that takes energy away from your opponent such that if someone is running full-speed toward you, you take and redirect that energy to your favor. In a business context, to disarm someone who is raising their voice and getting heated, all you need to do is lower your voice and talk more slowly.
    It’s proven that by doing the opposite, you are not provoking the other person. It will take them off guard, and when they recognize they are the only ones raising their voice, they’ll calm down.
    (BTW, I’m not involved in martial arts, but I’ve learned to apply this skill when required)
    Looking forward to reading more! Cheers, Jessica

  • Beverly Feldt July 27, 2012, 1:36 pm

    Great idea, Jessica! There are more tips on how to calm yourself and help others do the same in the terrific book “Conflict Unraveled.” It deals with (among other things) adrenaline flooding and how to manage it, plus a lot of valuable stuff on nonverbal communication.
    I’ve worked with their techniques for years, and they’ve made a huge difference for me and for those I’ve worked with.

  • Mike Rogers July 27, 2012, 9:46 pm

    Love it Jessica! I have done this myself with success. Great reminder. Thank you.
    Beverly, thank you for the reference. I will have to check it out.

  • Mike Rogers July 30, 2012, 10:41 am

    Your comments are right on Dr. Waddell. Thank you!
    It’s when we take it personally that the issues begin. Focus on the issue, and we are at a much better place.

  • Dr. Greg Waddell July 30, 2012, 10:40 am

    It’s very important to separate in your mind the relationship from the principles you are defending. They are two separate issues. Most conflict centers in the fusion of these two. Focus on the principle you value (for example, quality or punctuality or customer service) and look for a solution that satisfies your principle. Don’t confuse that with a relational problem. There may be a relational problem, but deal with that as a separate issue. I find that if I can focus my mind on trying to figure out the principle or value the other person is trying to defend, it helps me to not respond in an emotional way. I’m definitely not 100% successful at it, but it helps.

  • Larry Alvarado August 2, 2012, 4:11 pm

    Good post. I would just add or expand with these thoughts: Preparing yourself about knowing how you often react and going over in your mind what you will do instead of some of your bad habits is important to do – visualize, say what you’ll say instead
    Relax by practicing deep breathes before you start and during conflicts – take a break for a minute or so if it gets too hot – I’ll be right back… I just remembered something…
    Listening – good to clarify what you think they mean so you’re on the same page – no use arguing about what’s not true. Making sure you are clear about your views and why you have them, what you think you’ll accomlish because of them is important
    Incorporate some of their suggestions or the solutions of their objections if you can and make sure you explain how you’ll do it as well as telling them where you think they have a good point. It may not always be possible but a good thing to do if you can

  • Celeste Blackman August 2, 2012, 4:15 pm

    My favorite strategy, and one that I am always working, is to get curious not furious. Most conflicts trigger defensive behaviors. Defensiveness is like blood in the water to a shark. I get defensive, I hook your defenses, and pretty soon we’re talking at each other not to each other. We seek to win rather than to understand and begin to view ‘the other’ as the enemy. Nothing productive can happen in this space. If I can get curious instead, I can seek to understand the other person’s perspective.
    The best way I have found is to take a deep breath, clarify my intention to be curious and then ask good questions, without tone. Can you walk me through your thinking? Tell me how you see it? Why do you want it that way? How will this solution help you? What are your primary concerns?
    Listening sincerely allows the other person to clarify their own thinking while allowing me to gather new insights and information. I often discover that my initial assumptions were incorrect or I misunderstood their intention. Human beings can be pretty sloppy in communicating intention and this leads to all types of misunderstandings ( a whole different topi). Slowing down, clarifying and connecting with one another allows for something different and more meaningful to emerge. This requires we use of all our EQi skills, particularly emotional self-awareness, empathy, flexibility and impulse control.


Next post:

Previous post: