​Stop, Be Safe, Be Sound: 3 Steps to Keep Your Cool in Conflict

Quick, do the math.

What’s two times zero? Zero.

What’s 20 times zero? Still zero, right?

What about 200 times zero, 2,000 times zero, or even 2,000,000 times zero?

Anything times zero is zero. You know that, of course.

It doesn’t matter how big a number you put in the equation; if it’s multiplied by zero, it will always be zero.

What’s the point?

Both you and I have seen talented, gifted, and brilliant leaders multiply their incredible potential times zero by failing to do one thing: keep their cool in conflict. Maybe that person is you.

Angry words and emotional outbursts may feel good at the time; but they destroy our relationships with people, the people we report to and the people who report to us. And it’s these people, energized, engaged, and empowered, who bring the success we seek.

Conflict happens in business and leadership. You can’t avoid it. So take a different approach. Here are three simple steps for keeping your cool in it:

Step 1:  Before saying or doing anything, STOP

The first thing that happens to us in a tense situation is that our emotions sense danger and adrenaline begins to surge through our system. When that happens, we instantly become more focused, more intense, and more prone to act.

Drunk on adrenaline we say things and do things that we regret later. Really stupid things!

This is called “emotional hijacking” and it’s an apt image. Our emotions charge to cockpit of our airplane, take over the controls, and crash our business, our relationships, and our life into the ground.

When that overwhelming impulse to act flows through you. STOP. Do nothing. Get control of your emotions before you say anything, before you do anything.

Step 2:  Create a positive context, Be SAFE

When you have collected your emotions and are ready to speak, create the context where your words can be heard. A wise person once said, “No one cares how much you know until they know how much you care.” Good advice!

This is best done by first saying what you are not saying.

For example, if you need to speak with an employee who’s always late for meetings, you could create a positive context by saying, “I don’t want you to think, Tom, that I am not pleased with the quality of your work. I am. In fact, I’m thrilled with it. But punctuality is critically important for team effectiveness and morale. I need you to be on time for our meetings.”

By saying what you are not saying first, as with the example above, you create safety, a platform so to speak, for the issue you need to address.

Step 3:  Speak the truth without exaggeration, Be SOUND

When you get to the issue at hand, state it clearly, plainly, and factually.

The tendency we have when operating under the influence of adrenaline is to exaggerate our point and press our position too hard. This is not sound and will cause people to reject in its entirely what we have to say.

A good exercise in being sound is summarizing the issue in 25 words or less. If you can’t do that, perhaps you are too emotional to deal with it.

A 25 work summary is simple, concise, and tends to be more sound than an endless rant. And when you are done writing out the 25 words, you may decide it doesn’t matter anymore and drop the whole thing anyway.

Why We Need BOTH Safety AND Soundness

As you can see from the chart below, safety without soundness results in accommodation, where I lose and you win. On the other hand, soundness without safety leads to constant confrontation where I win and you lose. Not a very good alternative.

The perfect blend of both of these, after gaining our emotional equilibrium, allows for collaboration to exist and an outcome where both you and I win.

Here’s the beauty of these three S’s: you can actually remember them, even in a stressful situation. Three S’s, that it!

The next time the pressure’s on and you’re tempted to lose your cool, just walk though these three simple steps: STOP, be SAFE, be SOUND.

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