How to stay calm in a conflict

Much as we may dislike it, conflict is inevitable.

At work - and in your life.

Especially at times of heightened stress, emotion and expectation - such as the run-up to Christmas...

The best way to deal with it is to stay calm.

But this is not always easy!

You might be severely provoked - your buttons pushed, your triggers triggered.

You might be feeling either attacked and therefore feel defensive, or angry and therefore feel combative.

And in any conflict situation you will automatically go into physiological “fight-or-flight” mode, where your body’s automatic reactions get you ready to either fight or run.

Staying calm in these circumstances is best achieved if you know in advance some tools that can help.

This article suggests 5 ways you can stay calm in a conflict.

1. Breathe

“Just breathe” can feel like the last thing you want to do when you’re in a situation of conflict - advice that’s more irritating than useful.

But deep, measured breathing is a really fast and effective way to calm you, activating your parasympathetic nervous system which counteracts the “fight-or-flight” response.

Do this: “box breathing”, where you breathe in for a count of four, hold your breath for a count of four, breath out for four, and hold your breath out for four, then repeat. You will be amazed at what a difference this makes, and how quickly.

2. Listen

The temptation to argue back, triggered by defensiveness or aggression, can be very strong. But neither of these will help the situation, and are more likely to escalate it.

So once you’ve have done your breathing and are feeling calmer, turn your attention to listening to the problem at hand.

Often there will an underlying fear, or need, beneath the other person’s position. By really listening to understand you can defuse their anger - but most importantly, it also gives you even more of a chance to regain your calm.

3. Slow things down

You may notice that when you are angry, you often speak more quickly, higher, and louder.

Conversely, when you are relaxed, you will speak more slowly and deeply.

You can use this to both help calm you, and calm the other person.

As you ask questions to really understand what is going on with the other person, deliberately lower, quieten and deepen your voice.

You will feel calmer - and if you continue doing this, the other person will often move to match you.

Much of the heat will then be taken out of the situation, allowing for a more productive discussion of the issue at hand.

4. Change your surroundings

If the situation is still charged, you can further help yourself regain calm by changing your location.

If you are standing up, suggest that you go somewhere to sit down to talk about it.

If you are sitting down, suggest that you go for a walk outside to talk about it.

In general being in the outdoors is known to have a soothing affect so that is always a good choice.

But the very act of changing your location alone will do two things:

  • act as a break, to allow everyone’s emotions to subside (including yours);

  • and offer the opportunity to approach the issue from a different perspective, prompted by the different location.

A final tip: side by side conversations are far more effective when emotions are running high, for example walking somewhere together.

The side by side dynamic is much less combative than two people facing each other.

5. Keep a sense of perspective

Your purpose is to calm yourself, so that you are better able to deal with the conflict situation.

Remembering to keep the situation in proportion will be really helpful.

  • Is this a life or death issue?

  • Is your family under threat?

  • Does your entire career - or the whole of Christmas - hinge on this one moment?

The answer to these questions is almost definitely going to be no…

Remember this, and then try stepping out of the moment.

Imagine what the situation looks like to a spider on the ceiling (or a fly, if you’re afraid of spiders!).

Or go even higher - imagine what this situation would look like to a seagull (who can see through buildings) or from space.

Really get the situation in proportion - this is a tiny moment in a huge world, and it will be soluble, especially if you stay calm.

Conflict can only happen if both parties choose to allow it.

If you stay calm, you are taking the heat out of situation - and rather than conflict, it becomes a discussion to build better understanding on an area of disagreement.

Good luck!


p.s. if you'd like help dealing with stress at this challenging time, my new stress course is still available! Go to to find out more...

p.p.s. to mark the fact that this is my 50th blog (a milestone I am very proud of!), I will offer a FREE one hour online coaching session to the first person that emails me with congratulations 😃 (to be taken in January) -

Things to do and consider

  1. Practice box breathing - choose a time or times every day (set an alarm if you need to) to practice. It only takes two minutes, and you can do it while commuting, in the lift, waiting for the kettle to boil. The more you do it, the more quickly it will work as your body recognises the signal to calm itself down.

  2. Record yourself speaking higher, fast and loud; and then slow, quiet and deep. How much do you recognise the different emotions they generate? Practice speaking slowly, quietly and deeply so that it comes easily when you need it.