How to Approach a Potentially Heated Exchange


conflict qoute

Conflict. Discourse. Emotions. Hurt Feelings. Incivility.

Disagreements, both personally and professionally, are part of life. We’ve all had them. We will continue to have them.

Challenging, questioning or offering your thoughts regarding another’s opinion does not have to be a negative exchange. While the two paths shall never cross, the exchange does not need to be nasty.

Regardless of the encounter, each situation should be approached with consideration, respect and honesty. Ditto for the words you choose to use in these interactions.

In their book, Crucial Conversations, authors Patterson, Grenny, McMillan and Switzler define a Crucial Conversation as “A discussion between two or more people where (1) stakes are high, (2) opinions vary, and (3) emotions run strong.”  They further point out that in these crucial conversations, we can do one of three things:

  1. Avoid them
  2. Face them and handle them poorly
  3. Face them and handle them well

We live in a very grey world and each interaction can be vastly different, dependent upon many factors. There are numerous possibilities to have it go well.  Your end of the exchange is 100% up to you, yet you can’t control other’s words and actions.

Hopefully the following considerations will assist in guiding you when approaching a challenging encounter:

  • Begin with the end in mind. Think about what you want to achieve: gain a better understanding; express your opinion; voice a concern; present an opposing view; change a decision, etc.
  • Is your goal to build the relationship, maintain the relationship or compromise the relationship? The last option is typically not advised!
  • Time discussions when you are feeling in control emotionally. VERY important.
  • Hit your pause button. Take time to reflect & think before speaking. Words cannot be taken back once they’ve been spoken.
  • Don’t assume that the other person has all the facts or knows how you feel.
  • Manage feelings and reactions so they don’t have a negative impact on the message you are trying to convey.
  • Personal attacks are never effective. Never.
  • Communicate in a factual, constructive, respectful tone if you want others to hear your message. Otherwise, scream, shout, attack and be emotional. {Cue sarcasm}. There is a direct correlation between increased volume and decreased listening.
  • Be prepared to offer realistic options and alternatives.
  • Your mind is like a parachute; it only works when it is open.
  • Listen with the intent to understand, not with the intent to reply. (Thank you Stephen Covey)
  • Don’t look for fault; look for a positive outcome.
  • Understand that while your opinion may not always result in action or changing another’s mind, it is still valuable and important.
  • One person or group is not right and the other wrong. They are simply representing different opinions. You will experience more success once you accept that you are not “right” and the other person/group “wrong”.


Suggested words to use:

  • “Help me understand…..”
  • “Can you please share with me so I can better understand?”
  • “I see that we can agree upon…..and our views differ regarding…..”
  • “What potential negative outcomes have you considered?”
  • “What do you see as the positive outcomes of this situation?”
  • “Have you considered…..?”
  • “I hear you say…. I’d like to offer another perspective…..”


While having a successful interaction when emotions run high is challenging, with thought and reflection previous to the interaction, you can have a successful interaction and maintain or build the relationship.

A final thought to share; the wise words of Mark Twain:

Never argue with a fool, onlookers may not be able to tell the difference.


Mind Your Manners,


  1. Love the Twain quote! And great suggested words/phrases to use when in the middle of a conflict. I can always work on this. I’m a huge avoider!

    • Kelly

      Knowing you saw that Twain quote means you read until the end Jean. Thank you! I’m glad you appreciated the suggested wording too. It can be helpful…especially when we are avoiders. I understand – always working on it myself 😉

  2. You offer impressive advice, Kelly! Everyone has important observations to share and they quite possibly could change minds for the betterment of all.

    • Kelly

      Thank you for reading and sharing your thoughts Michelle!

  3. Great article Kelly. Thank you for this.

  4. Kelly, this is very interesting and helpful. Thank you.

    • Kelly

      Thank you for reading Sylvia. Glad you found it helpful!

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