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How to Hold the Calm when Dealing with Conflict

This article was based on episode 228 of The Modern Manager podcast. To hear this episode, and many more like it, you can subscribe to The Modern Manager Podcast on iTunes, Google Play, Spotify, iHeart Radio, Amazon, and Stitcher. Members of the Modern Manager community get two months of Fast Forward membership for free. Never miss a worksheet, episode or article: subscribe to Mamie’s newsletter.

Conflict is like spilling spaghetti sauce on a kitchen counter. It’s not a problem if you wipe it up right away, but if you wait overnight, you’ll have to spend a while scraping it off. Leave sauce on the counter for a couple of months, and you’ll have a lot of gross mold to deal with.

The longer we wait to deal with conflict, the messier it is. Yet, so many of us avoid addressing conflict because we’re scared; we fear saying the wrong thing or how the other person will react. Basically, we don’t feel equipped to deal with conflict when it arises. Hesha Abrams joins me today with a simple solution for keeping calm even in the midst of the most furious situations. Hesha is a world-renowned meditator, negotiator, and author. Her popular new book, Holding The Calm, shares her secrets in how to read a situation to solve problems, eliminate conflict, and restore harmony. Here, Hesha offers a few tricks to dealing with coworkers with big emotions, stopping our brains from getting stuck in confirmation bias and calming ourselves down in order to gain the upper hand.


We often don’t have problems with others who have the same perspective as us. But when we come up against colleagues that look at the world differently, the office becomes “Bumper Cars” with our egos. When we can’t understand why others act or think in a certain way, we jump to labeling them: they become a jerk/narcissist/selfish/lazy... Once we think about others in a certain way, our brains look for confirmation of our beliefs which only furthers our confidence that this person is, in fact, as we’ve labeled them.

It’s hard to interrupt the cycle of confirmation bias, yet in order to deal with conflict effectively, it’s helpful to approach the other person with positivity. That can be hard to do when you’ve already determined they’re problematic. Hesha recommends trying to find anything redeeming about the other person. Ask yourself, “Did they contribute anything positive to the last project?” or “Have they done or said anything valuable over the past few months?” At the very least, Hesha suggests asking, “Would they save my child from a burning building?” The answer (most of the time!!) to all of these questions will be yes.

Searching for redeeming qualities allows your brain to switch gears and look at people differently. Also consider personality types; is this colleague an introvert or extrovert? Are they a kinesthetic, auditory, or visual learner? By exploring who they are in a deeper way, you’re creating a fuller, more compassionate picture for yourself of who they are. Plus, you may find new ways to communicate with them more effectively.


Dealing with someone who is vomiting big emotions can be overwhelming. Our natural instinct is to shut down or run away. But think about an ER doctor. If someone throws up in real life, most people feel squeamish and look away. An ER doctor does the opposite. They look closer at the vomit because it has valuable information about what’s going on with the patient's body. Is it a certain color? Are there any undigested pills in there?

The only way we can look closer when someone is emotionally erupting at us is if we can handle our own emotions during an explosion. To stay calm, Hesha recommends trying to create a boundary or moat between us and the other person’s emotions. When we do this, we can respond rather than react and help others create their own emotional moats. Repeating a phrase in your mind such as “Hold the calm” can sometimes be enough to remind our brains that we are safe which keeps the brain chemistry mellow.


Hesha recommends her clients deal with conflict by vacuuming away (or VUCSing) the emotion in order to gain power and perspective.


Validation is the magical elixir in all conflicts. Of course, it’s easier to validate someone when you understand their emotions and don’t feel triggered by them. But if you can’t stand the person or their behavior is harming you, validate by just naming the emotion. Say something like, “You seem angry about this,” and see how they respond.


When you validate by naming emotions, you open up the conversation. This is your opportunity to look closer at the clues they’re providing; what is really bothering your colleague? Where are they coming from? Gather as much information as possible by asking follow up questions.

Clarify and Summarize

Make sure to repeat back what you hear to see if you’re really hearing the other person. Summarize what they’ve said to help them feel fully seen in their struggle.

By VUCSing others rather than taking a combative stance, we gain the upperhand in the situation. We become in charge of the encounter rather than on the defensive.


If two or more of your teammates are butting heads and it’s driving you nuts, Hesha recommends meeting with them each privately and VUCSing them separately. Find out what’s really going on with the tension below the surface. What you find may surprise you; they could still be upset about something that happened years ago in the office! Get them to acknowledge any redeeming qualities about the others (“Would he save you from a burning building?”) and share the positive things they say with the others, (“Elizabeth said you were always so helpful when collaborating on projects”). Help them see the bigger picture of who their colleagues are on a human level. Remember that simply seeing others as real people can drain so much poison out of a conflict.

When we deal with conflict well, we learn to coexist with others. Instead of running away when conflict arises, stop the defensive mode of confirmation bias in its tracks by working to see your colleagues (and friends and family) in a more expansive light. Lean into the conflict. Gather more information about them and their perspective. Seek to understand what’s really going on and help them feel heard. Practice VUCSing as often as possible! The more you do, the more effective you will be. Power isn’t about dominating others. It’s about understanding them. When we hold our calm during the messiness of conflict, we build real trust and empathy on our teams.


Get a chance to join a 1-hour Zoom with Hesha when you become a member of the Modern Manager community at

This article was based on episode 228 of The Modern Manager podcast. To hear this episode, and many more like it, you can subscribe to The Modern Manager Podcast on iTunes, Google Play, Spotify, iHeart Radio, Amazon, and Stitcher. Never miss a worksheet, episode or article: subscribe to Mamie’s newsletter.




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