How-To: Defuse Any Situation

No matter your profession, your workday has the potential to be a landmine of conflict. A disagreement with a co-worker, a runin with your boss, or an angry call from a client can ruin your day, or even your week, if you don't know how to deal with it. Keep the following tips in mind next time things get tense at work to be sure you come out unscathed.

  • Keep Your Cool - Staying calm in the face of an irate boss or a dissatisfied customer is easier said than done, but it's the most important thing you can do when a conflict arises. When others get worked up, take a deep breath, go to your happy place, and resist the urge to join the fray.
  • Clarify the Problem - When things get heated, it's easy to lose sight of what caused the conflict in the first place. If a discussion with a co-worker seems to be going in circles, try to pinpoint exactly what the issue is. Although you may feel like you're channeling your therapist, repeating the problem aloud as you see it can help to resolve the issue: "So to clarify, you feel that I took too much credit for your idea. Am I understanding correctly?"
  • Put Yourself in Their Shoes - An angry response can sometimes seem totally out of the blue. But instead of going on the defensive, try to put yourself in the other person's position: could your client or boss be having an unusually rough day at work herself? Just because the other person is being irrational doesn't mean you have to be, and enlisting a little empathy can prevent a full-blown conflict.
  • Call a Timeout - Sometimes a conflict is impossible to resolve on the spot. You might be too upset to think straight, or you might not have all the information you need to address the problem. Don't be afraid to call a timeout - ask your boss if you can meet later to continue the discussion, or let your client know you'll research the issue and call them back. Both parties will have a chance to cool off, and you'll return to the discussion more prepared to find a solution.
  • Move Forward - Whatever the issue, make sure your discussion is solution-oriented. After you've both had a chance to make your case, shift the focus of the conversation to what can be done to resolve the problem or prevent it from happening again. At some point you need to accept that you can't change what caused the conflict, but you can move forward and come to a resolution.
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