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Cooling Off

Five Tips for Staying Cool When Tempers Flare Up

Imagine that some situation is brewing that’s really getting under your skin. A pet peeve, a major setback, a disappointment that really bothers you. Now imagine that someone else enters into your working space during this moment, and says or does something that is the proverbial straw that breaks the camel’s back. Your temper flares. What do you do?

As the temperatures warm up, sometimes so can tempers. Here are a few tips for keeping your cool when things get hot. Note, all of these tips are interdependent. To really navigate through the difficult conversations, you must make sure you are using each of our 5 tips.


1. Make sure the scene is safe.

Don’t let adrenaline from the heat of the moment give you false confidence to address an issue of conflict with someone else. You see, in order to navigate conflict well the scene needs to be safe for the conversation. Do a quick check on any of these:

  • Make sure you have a good purpose – Can you succinctly and clearly articulate a positive purpose for what you’re about to say?
    • If not, stop, and do not speak until you can articulate a purpose that builds someone else up or makes the world (or at least the situation) better in some way.
  • Make sure it is your time to speak – Can you hear your thoughts more clearly than you can feel your emotions?
    • If not, stop and get control of your own emotions before you lose control of your words. Calm down before you speak.
  • Make sure it is their time to listen – Does their body language say they’re ready to listen?
    • If not, stop, and seek out a safer moment.


2. Practice Intentional Unconditional Positive Regard.

Unconditional Positive Regard (UPR) is a practice, before uttering a single word, of looking at the other person, recognizing that they are a valuable human being, and letting that thought be what governs our words and our actions. We don’t have to agree with each other to value each other. We don’t have to like someone to value them. We just have to recognize that they, as a fellow human being, deserve to be respected and valued. Need help practicing UPR? Try these quick tips:

  • Fix your story. Chances are pretty good that you’re making up some part of the story and coloring it with your own assumptions and perspectives. Ask yourself what you know for sure, and ditch any negative thought you can’t prove.
  • Change your angle: Stop for a second and try to think about how an outsider might view this same situation. Maybe there’s another, rational reason or perspective here. Think about how someone else might view it, and see if there’s a better lens.
  • Find a good truth. Sometimes someone behaved badly, and that’s just the reality of it. But see if you can find a way to separate the offending behavior from the person. Think about a time when you’ve made a mistake – would you want to be discarded because of your mistake?


3. Find common ground.

Don’t focus on where you disagree or where you’re different. Take an active step to consider what you have in common, or where you’re in the same proverbial boat. Finding what we both have in common will help us keep things in perspective. In the heat of the moment, instead of dwelling on where you disagree, take a few heartbeats to actively find something positive you share in common. When we focus on our common ground, we are able to move forward in the same direction faster, with less friction and less tension.

  • If you are working on a project together, consider what will help the project move forward best.
  • If you’re working for the same company, think about how you both want the best for the company.
  • If you’re serving a third party or a greater good, stop talking about yourselves at all and focus on those you are serving.


4. Don't can the candor.

Sometimes what we have to be candid about is that one of us blew it, but that doesn’t make either of us a bad person. We have to own the fact that something went wrong, or we messed up. Sometimes we also have to admit that someone else’s actions or words are leaving us feeling heated. To effectively navigate tough moments, we have to be honest.

  • First make sure the scene is safe. It you aren’t ready to talk about, and if they aren’t ready to listen to you, your candor may not be appreciated, and any apologies might go unheard.
  • Avoid the “but”. Being candid is hard. Getting defensive and accusatory will only negate your honesty. “I’m sorry” can mean a lot. “I’m sorry, but…” does not.


5. Wrap it all up with effective communication.

Effective communication can be the key to success in difficult situations. Poor communication is often the cause of many difficult situations. For us, it always comes back to the three principles of effective communication (and lucky for you, we’ve got a handy infographic that spells them all out! Check it out here). In the tough moments, there are two extra things to remember.

  • Plan ahead for the difficult conversations. Think about what you are going to say. Plan your body language, and responses you might be able to use. Practice the communication.
  • Listen actively and carefully. Listen to the content (what words did they use? Are we still on topic? Are we making progress?) and listen for to the process (Are we both still engaged? Do we need to take a break? Is this discussion still helpful?).


We hope your summer has been cool so far. If things heat up in the next few weeks, keep these tips in mind!


Topics: Communication, Sinikka Waugh

Sinikka Waugh

About the Author

Sinikka Waugh

Sinikka Waugh is a recognized leader in understanding people and in adapting tools, techniques, and processes to meet the demands of the situation at hand. Since 2006, Sinikka has provided compassionate leadership in transformation initiatives. When she isn’t in front of a class, she enjoys putting her background in English and French Literature to work, by writing blogs about the subjects she teaches every day. Are you ready? If you are, please don’t hesitate to reach out to us!


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