How to avoid or deflect tense conflict situations at work

There has been much written and advocated on the appropriate approach to take before opening your mouth and causing hurt or anger in any set of circumstances.

It is often cited that the three key things to ask yourself are…

  1. Is it necessary?
  2. It is true?
  3. Is it kind?

However, what about when someone says something in the workplace which is inflammatory or hits a raw nerve? Or worse when a tense conversation gets out of hand? What approach can you take?

If you are in the thick of things and feel the temperature rising between you and your colleagues consider the following;

  1. Acknowledge the tension, often this is the best way to diffuse it.
  2. Acknowledge and accept the other person’s points genuinely and if you are really struggling to understand where they are coming from, say that. Also say in your request for further explanation that you are not trying to be difficult, but rather understand their position better.
  3. Go back to the start. If appropriate, remind yourself and the other parties of the reason you are all present. Go back to focusing on the problem.
  4. Immediately address your body language- if your face or hands are giving you away recompose them. Smile (briefly, not like a Cheshire cat!) to relax your face and sit on your hands.
  5. Avoid using phrases like, ‘you did that’, ‘you said that’ make it less personal. Instead use team based pronouns. ‘The way it happened…’ ‘The company…’ ‘We all..’.
  6. Avoid adjectives to describe a person or an idea as ‘ridiculous’, ‘stupid’ or ‘crazy’.
  7. Apologise if you have used the above in the heat of the moment and acknowledge that this was not what you meant to say and rephrase.
  8. If you are still able to be self-aware and know you are near breaking point ask for a five minute break to collect your thoughts.

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