Skip to main content
power points

Getty Images/iStockphoto

It's easy to lose your cool when encountering conflict.

The solution is to rev up your emotional intelligence, according to leadership coach Marcel Schwantes. Choose to respond, rather than to react. There may not seem like much difference between those two r-words, but responding is lower key and less hot-tempered than reacting. "By responding, things don't escalate so easily; it allows us to create the space to consider the situation and decide the best approach to handle things. Sometimes that means exercising patience, a lot of patience," he writes in Inc.

Specifically, he recommends these seven steps:

  • Take a six-second pause: Gather your thoughts before saying anything. He suggests six seconds because the chemicals of emotion inside our brains usually last about that length of time. “During a heated exchange, if we can pause for a short moment, the flood of chemicals being produced slows down. When you are frustrated or upset, before you say something harsh, this precious pause helps you to quickly assess the costs and benefits of that, and other, action. Applying this consequential thinking in the moment helps you to make more careful choices,” he writes.
  • Get perspective: The pause can also help you to gain perspective. What’s this about? Do you really have to respond now or should you just sit back and let it be for a while? He suggests that by thinking over your situation rationally, without drama, you will likely arrive at a better conclusion.
  • Stay humble: Avoid sarcasm or other negative comebacks meant to prove your superiority. “Yeah, your ego may be bruised, so acknowledge it, rather than stomping on the warpath to revenge. The higher road to take here comes from humility – drawing from your inner strength, seeing the other person as a flawed human being (just like you), extending compassion, and trusting in the moment to a different, better, outcome,” he says.
  • Try empathy: In that vein, look at both sides of the proverbial coin by considering what the other person might be feeling. Writing about emotional intelligence in Fast Company, journalist Lydia Dishman stresses that being empathetic doesn’t mean being a pushover. But it means understanding how your words and actions will affect others. “Try to understand their motivations, even if you don’t agree. And share your own thoughts and feelings. Nothing builds trust faster than being open yourself,” she writes.
  • Ask a helpful question: Defuse emotion by asking, “What’s going on? Are you OK?” “Then simply listen,” says Mr. Schwantes. “What comes next may surprise you. You will most likely open up the door for the other person to explain the issue behind the issue – why they really feel the way they do. Now you have arrived at an opportunity for further dialogue to problem-solve and come to terms with an agreeable solution.”
  • Speak from your authentic self: Speak from the heart, clearly and intentionally. Don’t hide behind masks, tempting as that might be in conflict. If you made a mistake, fess up. Model integrity and authenticity.
  • Be the first to reach out afterward: Don’t let resentment fester, which is the normal response in the aftermath. Reach out to make amends and rebuild a strong or even stronger relationship.

We all have faced these situations and too often we react quickly, rather than take a six-second pause and try to use the other emotionally intelligent approaches he recommends.

Give your career a big boost with small business

We're told to think big. But Halifax executive recruiter Gerald Walsh suggests you think small about your career – small as in small business. Here are some of the reasons he lists on his blog for why it can give young people a big career boost:

  • Your achievements are more visible: At a small company it becomes easier to stand out. “This is particularly important if you are just starting out in a new career. It’s an excellent way to establish your credentials, build skills, and gain references that can follow you for years,” he says.
  • You can build more skills: You are less likely to be pigeon-holed. In small companies you generally take on many different challenges since there aren’t enough people for everybody to have just one task. This will make you more well-rounded, which will be helpful for your future.
  • You gain access to the decision-makers: “In small companies, you don’t have to go through five levels to get to the CEO – you usually just have to walk down the hall. You will find that most progressive business owners will listen to ideas that are well thought out and will help the company grow. And if it’s a really good idea, they will want to implement it right away. They will not have to seek budget approval from head office which can take months,” he says.
  • You can make a difference: You will have an impact and see that impact more clearly.

He admits big companies have advantages as well. Salaries and benefits are higher, you can change jobs without changing companies, and there are more structures and systems in place. But with that comes hierarchy and slowness to change, perhaps even an impersonal feeling as you are just one of so many.

"And, let's face it, there is no security anymore in any company, big or small. So, don't be fooled – like so many are – that the big company will look out for you. If they have to cut expenses to maintain their share price or because they've been bought out by another company, you could be given the pink slip easily," he stresses.

So don't automatically think big business. Thinking small can produce big results.

Take two years to do anything great

Whether you opt for small or big business for your next job – or any other organization, for that matter – give it two years if you expect to accomplish anything significant.

That's the advice of HR blogger Laurie Ruettimann, who says there's a dangerous myth these days: You can bounce around between companies because success revolves around being agile, nimble and disruptive.

Not so.

"It will take you two years to do anything great at work. The first year is all about building relationships. The second year is all about doing the actual work you were hired to do. It's true if you work in sales, marketing, or even at a hot-dog stand. You don't know anything when you start your job. It takes time to ramp up and earn trust," she writes on her blog.

The same notion implies to marriage, hobbies, and retirement, she insists. The change curve is steep. Be patient. Stick it out. Give it two years before you can expect success.

Quick hits

  • To talk about your brand’s quality, rather than rushing into telling everyone about its wonders, stop to think of a story that can share your enthusiasm. Marketer Ed Pilkington points to craft beers and spirits, which talk about their founder’s vision to develop a great beer, gin or whiskey that captivates us with the quest for quality.
  • Speaking of story, it’s not always the solution for problems. Sometimes it creates problems. Consultant Cy Wakeman points out that so many of the stories we tell ourselves about our circumstances aren’t true, and repeating them over and over saps our productivity.
  • After a subway strike in London three years ago, five per cent of commuters, previously comfortable in their routines, switched their patterns after discovering new and better ways to get to and from work. What changes can you make to your commute or beyond that will offer better opportunities? asks career coach Alan Kearns.
  • Never attend a conference or trade show without a list of things you need to do better in your business and – after checking with organizers – a list of people at the event whose brains you can pick, says consultant Donald Cooper.

Mark Mortensen of INSEAD discusses his findings about teamwork and how knowing what teams others are on can improve workflow

Special to Globe and Mail Update