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How to Stay Cool Under Fire

When emotions run wild in the workplace, you have to take control of the situation - and quick! These practical examples will help to point the way.

by Nancy Stern, M.A.

Have you ever felt your adrenalin rise and your temper flare when someone you work with asks a touchy question or makes a terse comment?

When emotions run rapid at the workplace, we tend to speak without thinking. This causes communication breakdown.

The alternative is to reframe the rift and turn it into an opportunity to do some creative problem solving. Simply apply the S-T-S Rule: STOP, THINK... and then SPEAK. In other words, empower yourself to take control of the situation.

The following examples will illustrate how you can prevent conflict by responding rather than reacting.


"You need to increase your sales next quarter. What have you been doing? Going to the beach?"

Your reaction might be:

"What do you want me to do? Squeeze the blood from my team? We're understaffed and you know it!"

But you're more likely to prevent conflict and feel better with:

"You know, I've also been concerned about the dip in our sales. I've studied the situation and I propose that I hire a couple of junior account executives to ease the administrative pressure from my top performers. Then, they will be able to get out there and make more calls which is what they do best."


" You haven't given me a raise and I want to know why. If you don't give me one, I'm out of here."

Your reaction might be:

"Clean out your desk. You're fired!"

You're more likely to prevent conflict and feel better with:

"I can understand your frustration and there are a couple of issues regarding your performance that need to be addressed before I can fully review your salary." (At this point, be sure to provide specific behaviors and don't use YOU statements; phrases beginning with "you" like "you are a moron.")


"You have to fill in for me tomorrow at the board meeting. I'm suppose to make a presentation and I just can't make it."

Your reaction might be:

"You can forget it!" Why should I help you? You never help me."

You're more likely to prevent conflict and feel better with:

"I'm really loaded down with work and yet, I know how important this report is. If you can help me catch up next week, I'll be able to be there for you tomorrow. I'll only be able to do it though, if you get me all your notes right away."

Now, the important thing to remember here is that truly effective person-to-person communication is the mutual responsibility of both parties.

The unfortunate thing is that we can't always rely on the other party to send the message in a way that won't suggest that we react with conflict resulting statements, especially when, as in the above cases, the initial statements were of a conflict producing nature.

The following represent a more positive approach which would have reduced the potential for conflict from the beginning and demonstrated how empowerment works:


"I'm concerned about the drop in our sales during the last quarter. What do you think is causing the problem?"


"I am curious as to the reasons why I haven't been given a raise yet. What can I do to enhance my performance so that I can be considered for a raise soon?"


I'm in a bind and really need your help. I'm suppose to give a presentation to the board tomorrow and I just got called away on an emergency. If I help you catch up next week, could you please step in for me tomorrow? I'll give you all my notes and explain it all to you now."

Notice that in each of the revised scenarios, the initial sender is not starting out with YOU, thus decreasing the potential for conflict and helping the receiver to stay cool.

(c) Copyright 2002 Nancy Stern Communication Plus

Through her workshops, seminars and consulting projects, Nancy Stern MA, helps people keep connected through conscious communication because how you say what you say matters™. Visit her on the web at http://www.nancystern.com or at http://www.onthespotmediatraining.com.

Some Related Articles:

How to Avoid a Verbal Fight
"And Never is Heard a Discouraging Word..."
Don't Fight, Just Think - and Counter the Attack!
How to Deal With Negativity in the Workplace
Emotional Intelligence: Lessons from a One-Pound Furball
Sanity-saving Strategies for Stressed-out Times
Three Basic Rules for Management Communication

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