Before you try to deal with a conflict, to stop and ask yourself: Is it hot or cold?
Hot conflict is when one or more parties are highly emotional and doing one or more of the following: speaking loudly or shouting; being physically aggressive, wild or threatening; using language that is incendiary; appearing out of control and potentially explosive.
Cold conflict is when one or more parties seem to be suppressing emotions and are doing one or more of the following: muttering under their breath or pursing their lips; being physically withdrawn or controlled; turning away or otherwise deflecting contact; or remaining silent.
If the conflict is hot: You don’t want to bring participants in a hot conflict together in the same room without settings ground rules that are strong enough to contain the potentially explosive energy. Try this approach. Have everyone sit in a circle, and then ask each person to speak in turn with strict limits (e.g. 3 minutes each).
If the conflict is cold: You can usually go ahead and bring the participants or stakeholders in the conflict together, engaging them in constructive communication. That dialogue, if properly facilitated, should “warm up” the conflict enough so that it can begin to thaw out and start the process of transformation. But you will still need to be vigilant and prepared. Conflict is often cold precisely because so much feeling is being repressed. So you need to skillfully know how to warm it up without the temperature unexpectedly skyrocketing.
Whether the conflict is hot or cold, the goal is not compromise, but rather bridging the divide and innovating new options or solutions. Bridging means creating stronger ties and deeper trust between the former antagonists. Innovating — which is distinct from compromise — means that some new resolution or possibility has emerged.
To handle conflict you’re dealing with right now, try these ideas:
1. Make time your ally. Don’t rush to act. Unless you’re in danger, take stock of your options. Otherwise you might say or do something you regret.
2. Determine your goal and focus on it. Don’t get distracted; stick to what matters.
3. Avoid name-calling and finger-pointing. Focus on the problem, not the people.
4. Beware of self-righteousness. Keep an open mind; you may find that you can learn something of value.
5. Listen to everything, but respond selectively. You don’t have to address every point — just the ones that make a difference.
6. Take stock before you take sides. Don’t speak — or take any other action — until you’ve really heard the other person out. Don’t leap to conclusions before you have a firm grasp of the situation at hand.
7. Consider calling in a third party. Someone who is not involved in the conflict may be able to provide vital perspective for both parties.
8. Let your adversary know you. Letting down your guard and letting the other person in may help them understand your point of view.
9. Check the temperature gauge. If the conflict is still too hot, don’t try to resolve it right away. Agree to come back when things have cooled.
10. Observe the Golden Rule. “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” Be polite. Be compassionate. It may inspire your adversary to do the same.