When a conflict turns hostile
Conflict is inevitable at work. But when a conflict escalates to hostility, how you react to the attack can mean the difference between a quick resolution or a full-on battle. Follow this advice to maintain control of your own emotions while still seeking a resolution to the conflict.
Stay calm during a verbal attack
A person confronts you, yelling and gesturing wildly. Your challenge: Hear the person out—without losing your temper. To resolve the problem and avoid a repeat, take these steps:
- Do not interrupt. If you break into the tirade, you tell the speaker that you are not really listening. You create the impression that you have prejudged the situation and that you are not interested in the other person’s side.
- Keep your imagination in check. Don’t escalate the situation in your mind. A person who is upset about a current situation does not necessarily plan to stay angry forever.
- Show your willingness. An angry person may feel that you just don’t understand the situation and why it matters. When you have a chance to speak, say “I want to understand.” Then paraphrase what you heard, using your own words, and ask the person if you perceive the situation accurately. Once you are satisfied that you understand fully, you can move toward resolution.
Reduce the person’s aggression
Train yourself to deal with aggressive people at work in a calm manner. Your goal should be to express yourself assertively, with no hint of aggravation.
Strategy: When a conversation takes a hostile turn, call the aggressor by his or her first name. That will draw the person’s attention. Then express your preference for how the conversation should proceed. Example: “Alice, I will listen to you and work to fix the problem, but only if you lower your voice and calm down.”
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