How to cool down heated situations in meetings

Imagine you’re a pilot in mid-flight. You’ve just realised there’s a serious malfunction in your plane’s engine. It’s over-heating. And now it’s your job to remain clear headed, think the situation through and land that plane safely.

Managing a team meeting is just like flying that plane. When conversations become heated, you risk losing control. When workplace conflicts flare up, you need to manage the situation calmly. You need to keep your cool, assess what’s going on and take the conversation to a psychologically safe place. There are four steps involved in doing this. Here’s Eleanor Shakiba’s advice on using these to handle conflict at work.

Acknowledge the positive intent of meeting participants

Remember that conflict is a sign that people care about an issue. Using robust conflict resolution strategies will keep everyone psychologically safe. Always start by letting people know you value their input. Before redirecting the conversation towards solution building, set a positive frame for your message. Let everyone know you value their input and energy. For example, when dealing with difficult behaviour during a meeting, you can say:

  • Thanks for your commitment to this meeting
  • I know you’re all keen to contribute today
  • I appreciate the energy you all bring to this meeting
  • Thank you all for your ideas

Remind everyone of the meeting’s purpose

Workplace conflict can trigger strong emotions. And when emotions run high, discussion gets off course. To manage conflict during a meeting, you need to steer everyone in a positive direction. Start by reminding meeting participants why everyone is gathered. You can use the following starter phrases to do this:

  • Let’s recap why we’re here
  • What we’re here to discuss is…
  • Let’s go back to the agenda item
  • Remember that our objective today is to…

Pose a focus question

Conflict resolution involves shifting attention from negatives to positives. So how can you do this during a meeting? By using smart questions. Questions direct attention. This makes them a very flexible tool for getting group conversations back on track, even when difficult behaviour is happening. Think of the main aim of your discussion. Then pose a question around that aim. For example:

Discussion Aim

  • Solve a problem How can we solve this problem?
  • Gather expert input into an issue Helen, what are your thoughts on this?
  • Summarise a longer conversation What conclusions have we reached?
  • Share information
  • Make a decision

Focus question

  • How can we solve this problem?
  • Helen, what are your thoughts on this?
  • What conclusions have we reached?
  • What do we know about this issue?
  • What steps do we need to take in order to reach a robust decision?










Try writing your focus question on a whiteboard, in order to create a visual reminder of what you want people to talk about. This is a simple technique which professional mediators use and which you’ll find helpful, too.

Help everyone contribute

Great meetings bring together great minds. You can capitalise on this by helping everyone contribute. Manage the input of ‘over talkers’ by setting limits on how long each person can talk. Draw out ‘under talkers’ by using simple facilitation techniques, such as:

  • Asking everyone to write their comments or ideas on post it notes. Then collecting the notes and reading them out
  • Calling on specific individuals when you ask for input. For example, ask ‘Marc, what impact will this decision have on your team?’
  • Giving each person a ‘turn’ to speak by asking for comments and then requesting that each person responds in turn

Using these four simple steps will keep your meetings on track. If you’d like coaching or training in how to maintain positive group dynamics, especially when resolving conflict, contact Eleanor Shakiba.

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