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Hot Under the Collar:

“Keep Your Coolâ€? Ground Rules for Healthy Conict


oday’s fast-paced world has us pressured to deliver more in less time with fewer resources, both personally and professionally. Up-to-the-minute technology keeps us “tuned in and turned onâ€? to email, cell phones, internet and television, creating highly distracting environments in which to relate to others. Fewer things get our undivided attention, and to keep up productivity, multitasking is often necessary when giving information and receiving it. Our face-to-face conversations have become less frequent and shorter than ever, condensed to mere abbreviations as we communicate more through social media like Twitter and Facebook. More and more, as machine automation replaces “real peopleâ€? in many industries once known for personalized customer service, we are left feeling frustrated, unseen and unheard. While a hurried pace and loss of the human element sets the stage for misunderstanding and anger, consider the added challenge of language barriers, personality differences, physical or emotional pain, past negative experiences, and opposing belief systems—all of which can add fuel to the ďŹ re when conveying information. As tensions mount, situations become ripe for conict. But as Aristotle observed, “Anybody can become angry, that is easy; but to be angry with the right person, and to the right degree and at the right time and for the right purpose, and in the right way—that is not within everybody’s power and is not easy.â€? Good thing you’re not just anybody! You know that allowing automatic, knee-jerk reactions to drive your behavior is a sure-ďŹ re way to send everything that’s precious to you—from relationships to your health, your career and much more—up in smoke. Conicts are a normal part of life and happen to us all. Whether you need to show tough love, deal with an unhappy customer or initiate a sensitive discussion, it’s possible to



transform sticky situations into positive learning experiences. To move through conict in healthier ways, follow these “Keep your Coolâ€? Ground Rules when you’re hot under the collar.

0AUSE 4AKEA$EEP"REATHAND2ELAX Anger sends us straight into a â€œďŹ ght-or-ightâ€? reaction, making it difďŹ cult to think clearly or problem solve creatively. Before hissing something hateful that you can’t take back, politely excuse yourself to escape panic mode. If possible, ďŹ nd some fresh air; take a slow, deep breath in, lifting your shoulders toward your ears. As your shoulders drop back down, pretend you’re trying to blow out 50 candles on a birthday cake before you take the next breath. Repeat this ďŹ ve times in a row and you’ll feel your body beginning to relax, allowing mental clarity to return. Many studies have shown that extended high levels of stress hormones, such as adrenalin and cortisol, trigger health problems ranging from headaches to heart attacks. So the quicker you can calm down, the better.

#HECK9OUR)NTENTIONS In the face of conict, strong emotions can escalate out of control. Before sparks y, be proactive and check your intentions. If they are not in the highest good of all, your ego is in the way. Be honest ‌ are you taking things too personally, or feeling a strong need to be right at all costs? It’s damaging to demand that others see things the same way, and don’t take it as a personal attack if they have a different opinion. Two points of view can both be valid. Are you focused on wanting to ďŹ t in and having people like you? We all want to be liked, but it shouldn’t come at the expense of speaking straight. Are you holding a grudge? If your deepest desire is to settle an old score, you must ďŹ nd a way to move past bitterness and ďŹ nd forgiveness. Knowing your intentions helps you take full responsibility for the energy you bring into every interaction.

h)TISWISETODIRECTYOURANGERTOWARDS problems—not people; to focus your energies ONANSWERSˆNOTEXCUSESv —William Arthur Ward It shows tremendous disrespect if you refuse to look at or listen to someone who is trying to discuss a sensitive subject. Saying “Talk to the hand!â€? only conveys contempt and can damage the relationship. If you aren’t ready to have a conversation yet, simply say so. Avoid using sarcasm or initiating threats. Our actions inuence others in ways we may never know, so be willing to discuss things in a respectful manner.

,ISTEN&IRST &IND#OURAGETO#OLLABORATE It’s easy to communicate by default when things get heated. Perhaps in the face of conict you automatically accommodate, yielding to the needs of others without ever stating your own preferences, which can foster hidden resentments. Or maybe you compete using an aggressive style, trying to manipulate an outcome by forcing others to accept your solution, which can create a war if everyone’s needs aren’t respected. Or, do you avoid dealing with conict altogether by ignoring it, hoping that “if you don’t bring it up, it will blow overâ€?? This only festers the longer we avoid an issue. The ideal approach, which also takes the most courage, is to collaborate. This requires the willingness to look for a win-win solution and a spirit of cooperation. Instead of an “it’s my way or the highwayâ€? attitude, you approach others with a sense of empathy, openness and respect for their perspective.

!DDRESSh4OUGH3TUFFv&AST Of course you want to carefully consider the most appropriate response in a situation, but once you identify what needs to be done, it’s best to do it quickly. The longer you put it off by thinking about it, talking about it and meeting about it, the more time and energy is wasted that could otherwise have been used to ďŹ nd a solution. However, angry undertones can fan the ames when emotions are on the edge of erupting, so it’s wise to regain calm composure before taking any action, especially if you are sending an email that so quickly becomes a permanent record.

3HOW2ESPECT Be civil, courteous and pleasant. Stick to the facts using “I Messagesâ€? as much as possible. If you start a sentence off with “You,â€? it comes off as more of a judgment, and puts people on the defensive. If you start with “I,â€? the focus is more on how you are feeling and how you are affected by their behavior. Also, it shows more ownership of your reactions, and less LÂ’>–i¾Ñ² ÅÑiĂŚ>–°’i\Ñ¿Â`ђ‹‘iыÓыwÑç ÞÂ`Ă‘ĂˆĂ“Â Â°Ă‘Ă“Âˆ>Ă“Ă€Ă‘Â‹Â›ĂˆĂ“i>`Ñ wĂ‘ Âż9 Þћii`Ă‘Ă“Â Ă‘ĂˆĂ“Â Â°Ă‘Ă“Âˆ>Ă“uÀ³Ñ Here’s a reminder of where to place your best attention when in conict:

We often think we know what someone else’s motives are, and assume they are negative. This only creates hostility and misunderstandings. You can’t assume people have the same priorities you do, or will tackle projects in the same way you would. Each person has a unique perspective, which deserves to be considered. Instead of interrupting, rolling your eyes, or rehearsing what you are going to say next, truly listen and attempt to understand where the other person is coming from. When it’s your turn to share, if someone keeps talking over you, you may need to say, “I’ve listened carefully to understand your position, now please give me a few minutes of uninterrupted time to explain mine.â€? After speaking, ask them to repeat what they heard you say, and then ďŹ ll in any gaps as gracefully as possible. It takes both patience and practice to be the levelheaded one in a tough conversation, but acknowledging the other person will go a long way to de-escalate an angry exchange. When we convey empathy and speak from the heart, we stay in touch with our humanity. And if we radiate grace under pressure, even as other tempers are, our communication is more likely to be appropriate and constructive. Never underestimate the impact of your authentic voice.



Fall 2012


Hot Under the Collar  

"Keep Your Cool" Ground Rules for Healthy Conflict

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