Unfortunately, conflict is something we all face. Hopefully, it’s an infrequent occurrence, but it’s helpful to know how to defuse tense situations when they occur. Only when we can address things clearly, logically, and with a level head can issues be effectively resolved — which is why learning how to deal with conflict is key.
As I was researching best methods, I came across a stepped process from the Department of Veterans Affairs. It’s really quite simple, but what struck me was the importance of in-the-moment action that can shift a conflict from potential escalation to thoughtful, emotionally diffused reflection.
Let’s say an argument erupts between you and a friend or colleague. Here’s how conflict handling would work using the “SAS” rule:
Step 1: (S)tep back — physically. This creates space between you and your colleague and sends the signal that you’re not interested in further aggression or tension.
Step 2: (A)sk for a second to think about the situation logically. With a pause in the communication, ask yourself two critical questions: What is the most important fact on each side of the argument? How are my feelings affecting my perception of these facts?
Step 3: (S)hare your realization with the other person calmly. Be sure you acknowledge both sides of the argument and how your emotion was coloring your communication.
At this point, you may be able to continue a constructive conversation that reaches a peaceful resolution. If, however, there is still tension, ask to excuse yourself so both of you can calm down and rationally think about both sides of the argument.
Follow up after a few hours (or days, depending on how much time you need) to calmly discuss the issue and come to a resolution. Be prepared to listen and, as needed, make a concession or compromise.
As needed for more complex or contentious topics, you can prepare an agenda for your follow-up or craft a statement of facts or beliefs that frame your side of the argument. Both of you should do this and share with the other to review in advance. This avoids possible inflammatory statements in the moment and forces you to think about the other person’s position.
Overall, it’s best to defuse these situations quickly and let the other person know you have no interest in conflict, but that you’d much rather listen, share, and come to an understanding calmly. It’s the only way forward — for the issue at hand and for your relationship.