There’s a scene in Aussie Gold Hunters, which screens on the Discovery Channel, where two gold miners find themselves stranded 200 kilometres from civilisation with a flat vehicle battery. One of the miners tells his mate: “Calm down…”

Work environments, while perhaps not as hostile as the Australian Outback, are hotbeds of conflict and it’s only a matter of time before you might find yourself witness to, or a participant, in a disagreement.

Whatever you do, don’t tell the person to ‘calm down’. Try this instead:

Step 1: Listen and show you are listening

Conflict and anger can often arise as a result of anxiety, fear, frustration or stress and the cause is almost always that the parties don’t feel heard.

When you listen, and show that you are listening, you are demonstrating to the other person or persons that you take them seriously. Really listen and nod to show that you are listening.

No buts’, ‘frowns’ or other non-verbal objections.

Step 2: Step Back

Sometimes (not always), when another person is raging, there will be other contributing factors fuelling their anger. This is not about putting yourself in the other person’s shoes.

Instead, take a step back and think about how they may be ‘feeling’ and why they’re feeling that way. Don’t try to be them. Be a ‘dispassionate’ observer.

“Remaining empathetic while keeping a little distance actually causes the helper to have a healthy, positive physiological response to the situation rather than a stressed one,” says University of Pennsylvania’s Anneke E. K. Buffone, the lead research scientist on the World Well-Being Project.

Step 3: Understand

As Susan Krauss Whitbourne Ph.D. says: “Figure out what’s happening, not whose fault it is. Finger-pointing is one of the most destructive conflict resolution strategies there is.”

Apply your mind, as well as from the other person’s perspective, to all the reasons why the current situation may have unfolded.

Step 4: Ask questions

Once you understand the other person’s perspective, it’s time to move forward by asking open ended questions that require the other person to think. For example:

  1. What would you like to see happen?
  2. What would it take for us to move forward?
  3. What outcome from today is most important to you?

By now, the situation should have calmed down considerably and some of the emotion will have dissipated. It is important that you take steps, based on their answers, that advance your relationship or the work that needs to be done rather than leaving things to fester unresolved.

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