Tears erupted and anger brewed. Two departments were at a collective standstill. Emotions filled the room like a thick cloud blinding any attempt to understand, empathize or solve problems. A virtual workspace adds density to the cloud. Breaking up the cloud holds the key to keeping good people and bringing out the best in them.

Conflict mastery has been my area of focus for over two decades. I’ve been, at times, in some pretty thick clouds with teams and in my own life studying how to transform destructive conflict into innovative solutions. Earlier in my life, much of the conventional wisdom on dealing with conflict involved sharing feelings and addressing the “elephant” in the room. But I think the opposite is true: Sharing feelings and complaints as a starting point often derails a productive conversation — unless the team has developed conscious agreements and connections.

When team members collectively understand conflict, have vulnerability-based trust and value each other, only then are feelings valued. Then, issues become opportunities everyone wants to solve, and empathy and support become natural.

A conscious team or business does value peoples’ feelings. This is a way to create belonging and cohesion in a group, which brings forth the best in people. Though, many teams and businesses are just not there yet. Some have no interest in being there. The competition for talent is a good thing as it pushes organizations to be better with their people.

To cut through that dense cloud of separation and create clear sky cohesion, I find that these tips work:

1. Begin with intention.
Intention has many levels. A wonderful analogy is riding a bike up a hill. Have you noticed how much easier it is to propel a bike up a hill if you look at the top of the hill? Don’t take my word for it, try it. If you look down at the pedals, it’s a struggle. The pedals are the emotions and the issues. Look toward where you want to go — your intention. An important distinction is to state your intention that isn’t conditional about another person or group.

With the two departments at an impasse, I began with a process to define their shared intention. When you ask people what is at the top of their hill, it energizes them. The energy in the room shifts and the engagement relaxes. It seems magical to watch the resistance melt when people talk about their intention. This is the beginning of a less emotionally charged process.

2. Ask open-ended questions.
Frequently we make assumptions about the other person or department and prepare communication based on those assumptions. Instead, attempt to replace those assumptions with true information by asking questions.

Once the intention is clear, asking open-ended questions becomes easier. What does your department experience at this point in the process? What do you wish for your customer/patient/client to experience? What have you tried before?

3. Become a calm eye in the storm by strengthening your balance and focus.

To go back to where I began, empathy and compassion are so needed in our world. The circumstances of the last couple of years have taken their toll on most people in many ways. In my process, I coach people to develop their “center” — that calm place inside that strengthens their balance and focus. The only thing you can control is you. When you are centered, you are in a place of fulfillment.

To develop your center, begin by adopting a deep breathing process. Even five minutes a day will make a significant difference. There are many ways to continue to develop this “calm” muscle. As a martial artist, I know it can be done with movement; it also can be done through thought and imagination.

A conscious business values the well-being of its people as well as profits. Knowing how to transform tension into innovation brings forth the best in people. This creates an environment that attracts great people. A proven place to begin is outlined above. Just as most people feel energized and clear-headed on a sunny day, your team will be energized as well when you break through those clouds of emotion.

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