5 Simple Ways to Keep Your Cool During Workplace Conflicts

Published on
Dec 18, 2022
Written by
Coryne Forest

One of my core values is harmony.

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

Oh, I do not think anyone actually likes conflict, but when you value harmony, dealing with workplace conflict can be extra hard to do.  It is like having to go against your values to get back to living your value.  Let’s just say it causes a lot of internal strife!

Yet, conflict is inevitable if you deal with other people.  You cannot even escape it with the humans that you created, so why do people think they can work with all their coworkers in perpetual bliss and harmony?

Whether you are the CEO or a cubicle dweller, chances are you have had a workplace conflict. While some good-natured debate can be a good thing, sometimes these conflicts get overheated fast. Whether you are in management or not, you are going to need to know what to do when conflict arises. Add to that the fact that you might be called upon to work with the person with whom you’re in conflict with again in the very near future and suddenly knowing how to keep your 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 other person to think you are not listening to what they have to say. But every argument reaches that point where no one is saying anything new. That is the point to take a break. It’s about here that things start to get personal, and indeed 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 the dramatic exit.

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

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

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

3. Get busy. For some people, being emotionally wrought leads toward a need for activity. If you’re one of these people, then use this energy to get some work done. Studies have shown that people can be very productive when they’ve been worked up. Also, consider that by channeling all that emotional energy into work you’ll find that 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 busy on this, we can forget all about that – at least for a little while.  And again, it gives the brain a chance to move from limbic system reactions to prefrontal cortex thoughtful actions.

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

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

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

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

Naturally, if there’s even a remote possibility that you will have to work with this person again, reconciling the workplace conflict has to be a priority. It can be hard, especially if you just don’t like the person.  But saying you’re sorry for your part in the situation isn’t saying they were right and you were wrong.  It’s just acknowledging that you had a part in 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 workplace conflict says a great deal about you as a person and a great deal about you as a co-worker. Being able to keep your cool in trying situations is an invaluable skill and one well worth cultivating, especially in the work world.

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

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