Corral Your Conflict

January 8th 2018

All reasonable people agree that avoiding the muck in communication is best. However, when you find yourself smack-dab in the muck, what do you do? How about when:


  • A co-worker sends you an email that sends you over the edge?
  • Your manager makes a snarky remark about your work habits in a team meeting?
  • A co-worker blows up at you for no apparent reason?


There are any number of ways to handle these situations. Before I get to those, here are a couple of very important things NOT to do:


  1. Don’t react when you are emotional. Think through your feelings, then respond.
  2. Don’t share the incident by telling your co-workers all about it. When you do that, you involve people who can’t solve your problem, you contribute to the gossip machine, and you burden others.
  3. Don’t invest more energy in a particular conflict than it’s worth. Realize the difference between issues you need to address and those you can let go. Pick your battles, because conflict is a major energy drain.


To corral your conflict, employ the flip side of the three don’ts above. DO:


  1. Have the self discipline to handle the situation like an adult. Keep the conflict where it belongs: between you and That Certain Someone.
  2. Take as long as you need to reach emotional balance, but deal with the issue as soon as you achieve that balance — if it truly warrants your attention.
  3. Leave some room in your head and heart for understanding. Maybe the people in the scenarios described above were having an off day. If their behavior is out of the norm for them, you can choose to ignore it. If the transgression has become a pattern or was extreme in nature, then you must be brave and handle it. But it’s critical to be aware of the difference.


While my bias is that most things need to be talked out, this isn’t true all the time. Over the years, I’ve learned that the sting of a negative encounter fades rather quickly when I allow it to. Giving that encounter more energy than it deserves takes away from the other terrific things happening around me, and that’s just a waste.


Perhaps the most important behavior in containing conflict is internal strength. Keeping anger, frustration, embarrassment and other negative emotions to yourself requires great strength. So does showing courage, compassion, and clarity when you find yourself stuck in the muck. 


All of this is simple, but not one bit of it is easy. This is when I realize how hard it is to be human.


communication, happiness, professional development


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