Cool Down Before It Blows Up: A Handy Guide To Conflict Resolution

Cool Down Before It Blows Up: A Handy Guide To Conflict Resolution

The drama of unfolding conflict with others can be deliciously fun to watch—especially when it’s, say, Olivia Pope or Meredith Grey taking on a threat and instantly crushing it. But in real life? At work? Not so much.

Still, as much as we might try to avoid it, conflict is a natural part of life, love, and work for all of us mere humans. Add in to the mix a growing,widespread sense of stress and burnout among millennials, and it’s clear we’re in need of an intervention, stat.

That’s why we’ve put together a comprehensive guide on how to resolve conflict with friends, with colleagues, and within ourselves in order to not only survive, but thrive when tough issues or disagreements come up

Ideally, those minor tiffs will no longer have a chance to become a full-blown catastrophe with these handy top tips from experts in business, entrepreneurship, and psychology. Together, we can learn when to let it go, when to work it out, and when to move on.

How to: resolve conflict with friends

For modern women-identified people, bringing up uncomfortable feelings or issues with those we love most can be a challenge. But if you look at social/evolutionary considerations, women are thought to have used social alliances to create safety nets since long ago.

“Without the physical strength that men could use to vanquish enemies, women would band together to protect their children and one another,” says Dr. Suzanne Degges-White, chair of the counseling department at Northern Illinois University. “Women have been groomed by cultural influences, too, to care about others and build relationships for support and meaning in life.”

That means emotional connection and bonding is both our go-to power and, sometimes, our own worst enemy. “Our highly emotionally-focused brains can result in fixation on imagined slights or fears of what others are thinking about us,” Degges-White adds.

When it comes tostarting those touchy conversations, she recommends being proactive and using clear communication and “I-statements” to be most effective.As a counselor, she also encourages journaling about feelings or writing letters that you wouldn’t necessarily plan to send if you’re not yet ready to talk the your friend or partner directly.

“These activities give us a chance to ‘feel our feelings,’ reflect on the conflict or disappointing event, and make sense and meaning of it before taking action,” she says. Of course, in our hyper-connected world, we can fire off all sorts of emotion-driven communications without pausing to think about the damage we are doing. Angry tweets, text messages, and emails can be detrimental to the resolution process—and sometimes, can be difficult to overcome.

“We all need to slow down, let feelings sink in, reflect on the feelings, and use our rational mind to figure out the best (or the least destructive) path to resolution,” Degges-White adds.

When it’s time to walk away (or seek help)

When you’re spending too much time ruminating on how to “get even” with this person or if you can’t resolve things easily. Research shows that the only person who suffers from “revenge fantasies” is the person who is doing the fantasizing. This process keeps you from moving forward and this can get in the way of letting go of your toxic feelings, says Degges-White.

How to: resolve conflict with colleagues (and bosses or clients)

As the clever girlboss you are, you’ll want to develop your own style of conflict resolution at work, says Samuel Dinnar, an instructor in the Program on Negotiation at the Harvard Law School and coauthor of the book,Entrepreneurial Negotiation.As a certified mediator, he says his job is to facilitate negotiation—a key component in successful conflict resolution.

“The first few minutes are critical,” he says. “What you’re looking for is joint problem-solving, instead of a win-lose scenario.”

For entrepreneurs in particular, Dinnar points out how critical it is to resolve conflicts in a timely manner. As a best practice, he recommends including a dispute resolution clause in all business contracts that outlines how you’ll first try to mediate the inevitable disagreements that will inevitably come up.

And when they do?Scholley Bubenik, a human resources expert and author of the new book,People Power: An Entrepreneur’s Guide to Managing Human Capital,recommends two things: listening and finding a point you can agree on. These are both part of a “growth mindset,” which can help promote greater self-awareness and a willingness to learn.

“Let’s say, for example, you’ve got a conflict or a disagreement about your scope of services or the quality of services,” she explains. “You need to focus on what the primary things you can agree on first. It’s OK to say, ‘Hey, we’re not here to say that we’re going to agree on everything.’”

Remember, Degges-White says, workplace conflict can affect everyone in the workplace, so be aware of the larger issues at stake – your relationships with peers, supervisees, supervisors, your reputation, and your job security. Be rational, not emotional, when addressing conflicts and even when it’s hard to do, taking the metaphorical high road may be the surest way to keep the conflict to a minimum, if it can’t be easily solved.

When it’s time to walk away (or seek help)

Degges-White saysif the other person in question is making threats about taking actions that could harm you in some way—emotionally, psychologically, physically—or if forcing a confrontation could put your job security at risk, you might be better off just letting it go or seeking a mediator or workplace advisor.

On the other hand, Bobenik says sometimes as an entrepreneur or business owner you have to step back and say, ‘am I watering a dead plant here? Is this just not a good fit?’ There are people that may not succeed in your company, and as part of management, it’s your job to determine who those people are. Work with a human resources expert to tactfully and professionally create an exit strategy.

How to: resolve conflict within ourselves

We’ve all heard the adage that we can sometimes be our own worst enemy. But what does that actually mean when it comes to growing into better leaders, lovers, and friends in order to ask for what we want and need without getting in our own way?

For Dr. Alice Boyes, author ofThe Anxiety Toolkit,the biggest issue is often overthinking.

“People often confuse overthinking and problem-solving, so they think that all their overthinking is going to lead them to a solution,” she explains, “When really, all it is, is rumination. Sometimes people who overthink are actually least likely to take practical steps that would have the most impact.”

Instead of overthinking a problem with different backup plans, or different ways of doing something, the first thing you should do is actually ask for what you want and see if that’s possible, Boyes says.

When it’s time to walk away (or seek help)

Have a few phrases to keep in mind. If you are someone who finds it difficult to be assertive or to receive feedback, have a few phrases that you can truck up so that you can hide that defensiveness. Try: “Those are good points. Let me go and think about those, and I’ll get back to you with how I think we could implement them.” Focus on one or two practical things that you could take away from the experience that would actually improve things, and implement those, rather than continue to overthink the problem.

Whether you’ve made it to the C-suite or are about to step into your fist management role, leadership skills are something we can always brush up on and improve upon. Join us in Leadership Hall at the Girlboss Rally for actionable workshops and IRL advice that will help you step into your next leadership role. Register now at