Conflict Resolution

Don't Multiply your Business Times Zero! Keep your Cool in Conflict

Bill Zipp asked:

Nobody likes a pop quiz, but this one’s really easy

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

I have seen talented, gifted, and brilliant leaders do the same thing to their business, multiply all its incredible potential times zero, by failing to do one thing: keeping their cool in conflict.

Angry words and emotional outbursts may feel good at the time, but they destroy our relationships with people. And it is people, energized, empowered, and inspired people, who bring us the success we seek.


Conflict happens in business. You can’t avoid it. So take a different approach, use these three keys, each beginning with the letter S:

1. Before saying anything, STOP. Collect your emotions and stay in control.

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. Anyone who saw Tom Cruise jump like an idiot on Oprah’s couch knows what I mean! This is referred to as “emotional hijacking” and it’s an apt image. Our emotions charge to cockpit of our airplane, take over the controls, and crash our life, and our relationships, into the ground.

When that overwhelming impulse to act flows through you. STOP. Do nothing. Get control BEFORE you say anything, BEFORE you do anything.

2. Create a positive context where your words can be heard. Be SAFE.

You are ready to speak when you have collected your emotions. The next thing to do is create a context where you words can be heard. A wise person once said, “No one cares how much you know until they know how much you care.”

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

In other words, if you needed to speak with an employee who is 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. I want us to continue working together for years to come. But punctuality is an important issue for me and I need you to be on time for our meetings.”

By saying what you are NOT saying first, you create safety, a platform so to speak, for the issue you need to address.

3. Say what you have to say in an open, non-confrontational way. 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 out position too hard. This is not sound and will cause people to reject in its entirely what we have to say.

Here’s how to be sound: summarize the issue at hand in 25 words or less. If you can’t do that, perhaps you are too emotional to deal with it. A 25 word summary is simple, consice, 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 entirely.

Here’s the beauty of these three S’s: you can actually remember them! The next time the pressure’s on and you’re tempted to lose your cool, just walk though these three powerful steps: STOP, be SAFE, be SOUND.


When we handle ourselves well in conflict, an amazing thing happens. The zero is replaced by a number that actually increases the value of our business and the impact of our leadership.

VitalSmarts, an organizational consulting firm that works exclusively in the field of workplace communication, reports in their best-selling book Crucial Conversations,

“Strong relationships, careers, organizations, and communities all draw from the same source of power?the ability to talk openly about high-stakes, emotional, controversial topics. So here?s the audacious claim. Master your crucial conversations and you’ll kick-start your career, strengthen your relationships, and improve your health. As you and others master high-stakes discussions, you’ll also vitalize your organization and your community.”

That’s the payoff!


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *