We looked at three rules of engagement that can help you resolve conflict. Now, we will examine the remaining five principles.

4. Manage emotions at the outset

As we have seen, people are emotional beings. Whether people express emotion in a conflict (and they often do) or conceal it, emotions are there. Emotions and rational thinking do not go together. If you suspect emotions — whether yours or the other person’s — are clouding judgment, resolve the emotional issues first before attempting to address the substantive problem.

For example, suppose an angry customer is complaining to you about a defective product you sold him. You can calmly and rationally explain what the problem is and the procedure for corrective action, but he won’t listen.

You can ask him to calm down and be reasonable, but he will feel insulted and shout at you even more for telling him how to behave. All you can do is listen sincerely until he gets the emotions out of his system. When the storm blows over, you can help him with his problem — but not before.

5. Perception is reality

People see what they want to see and hear what they want to hear. We each have our own reality, based on how we as individuals perceive and interpret the world around us. Without getting too philosophical, we all see things our own way.

In a conflict, we each typically seek to convince the other to see things our way. You may not succeed in getting another person to agree with you. But if you can remember that she sees it her way just as you see it your way, and she is just as convinced in her mind that she is right as you are certain that you are right, you can at least understand one another. And that is a big first step towards resolving the conflict.

6. Focus on the problem

Many conflicts are, in essence, personality conflicts. We all know someone we just don’t get along with. He rubs us the wrong way, or there is just something about him that we don’t like. If you have been reading the above rules carefully, you will concede the possibility that someone may feel the same way about you!

For example, you may know someone who is high-strung, who babbles incessantly without ever seeming to get to the point. You may cringe whenever he begins talking to you. Or someone may be so serious and cautious in her approach that you just want to scream, “Hey!  Lighten up!”

Clashes of personality styles are inevitable. Accept that it takes all kinds to make a world. Focus on the substantive issues and don’t be distracted by personality differences.

7. Describe rather than judge

Conflicts often escalate because of the way we characterise our view of the world. We make assumptions and jump to conclusions, leading to erroneous or provocative interpretations. When facing a conflict, be objective and stick to verifiable facts. Do not judge others or state your opinion as fact. For example:

A:  “You have a poor attitude.”

B:  “I notice you’ve been shouting at some of the staff and closing your drawers loudly this morning. Is there anything you want to talk about?”

The speaker in example A is judgmental and assumes something that may not be true. It characterises his opinion as fact. The result may be a defensive response and an argument.

In example B, the speaker refers to specific behaviours she has observed. She does not jump to the conclusion that the behaviour reflects a poor attitude, and she invites discussion to determine what the reason for the behaviour might be. This can lead to understanding and resolution of the conflict.

8. Turn enemies into friends

Too often, we focus on getting our way, on beating the other guy, on “winning”. Do not lose sight of what you really want — resolving the conflict, preserving your resources, maintaining harmony and being effective. Having your way is nice, and when both of you get what you want, it’s even nicer.

These rules may seem obvious to you. Remember that we often take things for granted, and we do not always do what we should do. Especially in the heat of a conflict, when emotions run high, we are likely to forget. Learning and practising these eight rules of engagement can help us change our mindset and become more effective at resolving conflicts.