7 Tips for Defusing Conflict on the Spot

Conflicts are inevitable. It's how you handle them that counts. 

It’s no secret that conflict happens on construction projects. Most flareups — whether between a project manager and superintendent, a foreman and a crew member or an employee and a subcontractor — arise from differences in values or a lack of clear expectations, according to business and leadership coach Fred Reikowsky of Legacy Business Leaders, LLC. 

Allowing the situation to escalate can not only affect the work but create animosity and lower morale. Instead, defuse it with these strategies.

Practice careful listening

In conflicts, it’s likely that at least one party is not listening effectively, explained business and organizational strategist Laurie Richards. “The two people in conflict typically want the other person to hear them, but instead of listening carefully, they try to over-talk, yell, repeat, or walk away,” she said.

That’s why it’s important to let the other person have their say, and then consider their position carefully before responding. You might even find that a compromise is in order — or maybe, just maybe, they're right.

RELATED: 6 Secrets to Communicating More Clearly with Any Stakeholder


Take a timeout

If emotions are too high and resolving the conflict immediately is not likely to happen, call a timeout. Not only does this buy you some time to collect your thoughts, it also helps you avoid saying or doing something you might regret.

Before you walk away, say, “I need a minute, so let’s discuss this at the end of the day,” and then reassure the person that you will revisit the conversation later. Getting physical distance from a conflict can help both parties calm down.

Focus on the facts

Don’t let a disagreement turn into a personal battle of accusations and assumptions regarding another’s shortcomings or failures. Be intentional about keeping your emotions in check, and focus on the facts, Reikowsky advised.

“Most of us are conditioned to react emotionally vs. responding constructively. A well-delivered, non-emotional response can defuse an otherwise highly charged situation and lead to quicker resolution,” he explained.

A fact might be, “You did not complete the work the way we both agreed you would,” along with the negative consequence: “As a result, the customer is upset, and the schedule is delayed, costing us a significant loss of profit.” 


“Most of us are conditioned to react emotionally vs. responding constructively. A well-delivered, non-emotional response can defuse an otherwise highly charged situation and lead to quicker resolution."

Fred Reikowsky, Business and Leadership Coach at Legacy Business Leaders, LLC

Acknowledge, state your case, then ask/suggest

Richards recommended this three-part technique when defusing conflict:

  1. Acknowledge the other person’s position. Use a sensing word (see, hear, feel). For example, "I can see why you think you ought to have done it that way." "I feel like you're not behind this idea." "I can hear how frustrated you are."
  2. State your case. "Unfortunately, in this case, we need to go left instead of right. Left takes us where we need to go while right takes us over budget."
  3. Ask/suggest. For example, you might say, "What do you think it will take to get this back on track?" If they are struggling to come up with a solution, you can suggest one. But give it some time before you jump in with your ideas. 


Use their words

If someone tells you they're frustrated, don't respond with, "I can tell you're angry.” Richards said they'll likely snap back with, "I'm not angry" — and now you're fighting the wrong fight. Stick to their language and respond with, ”I can see you’re frustrated."

Be willing to admit you don’t have all of the information

In many conflicts, one person has information the other person doesn’t, according to Richards. Be willing to ask questions to get information that person may be privy to. Maintain an attitude of curiosity, not judgment. A great way to do this is to ask questions such as, “Can you share with me what you know?” This can lead to more collaborative questions like, “What can we do to make this situation better?" This type of dialogue can help the other person feel like they are part of the solution.

Think from the other person’s perspective

Finally, try to adopt an outward mindset, one in which you intentionally think empathetically toward the other person. “If we have needs, desires and challenges in our lives, others surely do as well,” noted Reikowsky. “When placing ourselves in others’ shoes, conversations become much more about how can we help each other vs. how can I win.”

Sara Lindberg is a freelance writer specializing in business, health, wellness and education. 

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