Conflict Resolution Skills in the Age of Rage

Flexibility and conflict resolution skills are essential career tools! The odds are you will be challenged by someone or something every day of your life. Workplace conflicts are taking a costly toll on businesses. This could be why HR leaders and job recruiters consistently rank flexibility skills and conflict resolution skills in the top ten of the most desirable soft skills. Conflicts are also increasing among airline travelers where air rage is a real problem.

Case Study: Air Rage Conflict

This week two American Airlines passengers could have used these skills. Perhaps their air rage altercation could have been avoided if they had tapped some conflict resolution skills to de-escalate their tense encounter. Instead, their face-off went viral and now there is talk of a lawsuit. Passenger Wendi Williams was on the receiving end of this latest air rage episode. This week she is making the rounds on national news shows to discuss her ordeal. 

Conflict Skills for Travelers

Williams’ ordeal occurred when she was traveling home from a teacher’s conference. The passenger behind her asked her to put up her seat while he ate, and she obliged. She reclined her chair again after he finished eating. If you have not seen the cell phone footage, the upset passenger repeatedly beats William’s headrest. Things got crazier when a flight attendant offered the mad guy liquor for his troubles and demanded Williams delete the video off her cell phone. Note to the flight attendant: you might offer the mad guy some calming hot tea next time.

3 Skills for Staying Flexible During Conflicts

What could both passengers and the flight attendant have done differently to de-escalate things? Here are three steps that can make a difference:

1. Breathe – When you are faced with an upsetting situation, the best thing you can do to de-escalate things is to take some deep breaths. In order for you to think clearly, your brain needs at least twenty percent of the oxygen your body creates! When your brain goes into the upset mode, your emotions take over. Emotions are like a horse that has been stalled for days. Once you open the gate, that horse is going the run.

“Emotions are like a horse that has been stalled for days. Once you open the gate, that horse is going to run.”


When emotions take over, your breathing shifts to low, shallow levels. You will literally hold your breath. In turn your brain tells your body language to move into a rigid mode. This causes you to shut down your brain’s ability to come up with options and solutions. Needless to say, this is an uncomfortable state. When we coach leaders and teams to manage conflicts we emphasize the importance of what we call “state management” skills.

2. Manage Your Emotions – Once your breathing is under control, you should begin to feel your body relaxing and your muscle tension should subside. Then, it is helpful to acknowledge and identify the emotions you are experiencing. Are you fearful, confused, hurt, sad, etc.? Naming the emotions helps you move toward a more rational space in your mind. Otherwise your emotions will take over and override all of your actions and thinking.

3. Identify Options – The first two steps should be followed by what we call Solution Frame Focus. You always have a choice when a conflict rears its head, and it is imperative that you choose with purpose. One of my favorite stories from Chicken Soup for the Soul at Work is about Azie Taylor Morton. She was born in very dire circumstances but rose to become Treasurer of the United States. Her core question was, “How do you want this situation to be?” With that as her core question, she went from picking cotton on a Texas farm to serving at the highest levels of government.

“Ask yourself, how do you want this situation to be?”


Problem Solving With Solutions

I recall once during a business trip when I was sitting next to a dad and his tween son. The tween was engrossed in an extremely loud video game. Everyone around us kept looking at his dad thinking he would do something. He didn’t. I put on some music and earbuds to try to escape into my own world. But nothing could shut out the screeching gaming noise. I did not want to confront the dad. So, I thought of another solution and offered the tween my extra set of earbuds. He loved it! He thought I was the nicest person. In turn, I was a peaceful, happy camper.

The Cost of Workplace Conflicts

According to one study managers and supervisors spend about 30 to 40 percent of their time dealing with workplace conflicts. Think of all of the time, energy and stress conflicts cause for leaders and teams. It impacts morale, productivity, absenteeism and more. It is no wonder that another study says US companies lose 359 billion dollars annually to workplace conflicts.

“Think of all of the time, energy and stress conflicts cause for leaders and teams.”

Invest In Your Soft Skills

How many times a week do you WISH you had handled a situation differently? Give these three steps a try the next time you come face-to-face with a possible conflict. Growing your flexibility skills and conflict resolution skills will pay off in your career and your team will thank you!

If you would like to explore solutions for your organization, feel free to CONTACT US about Benchmark’s consulting, training and coaching services. We have a proven track record of delivering dynamic, actionable and relevant solutions for Fortune 500 groups and others.


Gail lives on a Texas ranch with her family and some wonderful animals! We support a horse therapy program for people with disabilities, as well as local animal shelters that rescue abandoned dogs and cats.

Benchmark has consulted with and coached leaders and organizations from all 50 USA states and more than 25 countries. The team provides award-winning leadership and communication strategies to Fortune 500 groups so they can achieve their business, leadership and reputation management goals.