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The Fast Company Executive Board is a private, fee-based network of influential leaders, experts, executives, and entrepreneurs who share their insights with our audience.

How to defuse a tense business situation and stop stressing

Here are 12 tactics to help you remain level-headed in the heat of the moment.

How to defuse a tense business situation and stop stressing
Members of Fast Company Executive Board share their expert insights. [Image: Courtesy of the individual members.]

If you’re worried about losing a client over an agreement gone wrong or miscommunication, before you go into a meeting reacting impulsively out of fear or frustration, remember to stop, rethink your approach to addressing the misunderstanding, and check your emotions at the door.

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At the end of the day, it will strengthen your ability to handle conflict, you’ll salvage a key client relationship that may have been in jeopardy, and be appreciated for your professionalism, empathy and willingness to represent your stakeholders in a positive light.

A panel of experts from Fast Company Executive Board shares their advice on how to turn a bad situation into a good one and move forward in business.

1. COMMUNICATE.

I can relate to tense business situations from my time as a Green Beret. There were many times I arrived in a foreign country and inherited challenges, which always made that first encounter tense. So what did I do? It came down to four steps: identify the challenge, define the environment, assess the risk, and then work a road map for the way forward with open and flat communication. – Eric Brown, Imperio Consulting

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2. DON’T PANIC.

I can easily keep my cool when there is a disagreement in opinion or approach. It is far more challenging when there is a breach of ethics or values. It is important to avoid catastrophizing the situation in your mind. Remember that it is just one moment in your long life. Seek counsel from your most trusted, neutral, and insightful friend to help bring perspective to the situation. – Steve Dion, Dion Leadership

3. INSTALL MAILBUTLER.

If you tend to send emails that you later regret, which can exacerbate an already tense business situation, I highly recommend installing Mailbutler. I recommend this app everywhere and the company has no idea! It’s perfect for me because it delays every email a full minute before it sends—plenty of time to take back something I maybe shouldn’t write. – Anna David, Legacy Launch Pad

4. GET STARTED ON A NEW PROJECT. 

If you are able to focus positive energy on a new skill or new opportunity, you will forget the other issues. For example, go to any bookstore and get a how-to book or learn about something new online. Recently, I decided to dive deep into NFTs and I discovered an exciting opportunity that has changed my perspective on the internet and the future. – Bill Nottingham, Nottingham Spirk

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5. MANAGE YOUR EMOTIONS. 

Learning to manage your emotions appropriately is one of the most important skills for a great leader. Being able to manage your emotions does not mean you’ll have no emotion or no reaction. However, as a leader, it’s your responsibility to stop, assess the situation, be mindful of your influence and impact on those around you, and think before you react. Leaders who can’t manage their frustration and irritation build cultures of fear and confusion! – Danielle Paige, Nixon Peabody

6. REMAIN DIRECT AND FACTUAL. 

When you’re faced with a tense situation, the best way to tackle it is from a non-emotional standpoint. Focus on the pros that outweigh the cons and ensure they are discussed and resolved. Such instances are good examples for employees as they set the bar for leaders to take on challenges and guide their teams on how to handle a tricky situation. – Irfan Khan, CLOUDSUFI

7. STICK TO YOUR PRINCIPLES.

We were sued by our largest client and faced both significant legal costs and a sudden loss of revenue. Three principles helped us avoid both. We took personal responsibility to understand the legal issues instead of relying on others. We responded to each issue on its merits and ignored the impulse to give in. We remained committed to transparency, updating employees weekly. – Andrew Woessner, R-Path Automation

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8. SUSPEND JUDGMENT.

You have to learn to suspend judgment. Let things go and you’ll see the magic happen. Losing your cool will not achieve anything. All that will happen is that you’ll not be in a good frame of mind to work on the solution and come up with a solid strategy to deal with the current situation. If you accept it and don’t get frustrated, a solution will flow in. Remember that you cannot have a one-sided coin! – Michael Fenech, EndGame Network PTY LTD

9. BE WILLING TO COMPROMISE.

Understand that these conversations are the most important ones you can have in business. If you handle them well, they will actually be a positive for you because they are the conversations people remember. Lead these conversations with empathy and objectivity, and be open to compromise. Always assume the best intentions in others unless proven otherwise. – Scott Baradell, Idea Grove

10. FILL THE UNMET NEEDS.

When tension arises between two parties, start reflecting on the unmet needs of the other party. This will bring a fresh perspective on what is causing the tension, and instead of avoiding it, embrace the tension by engaging in a dialogue to find a win-win solution. In the process, agree on the rules of this dialogue to include mutual respect, lack of judgment, kindness, and compassion. – Andreea Vanacker, SPARKX5

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11. DON’T PLACE ANY BLAME.

Focusing on the facts rather than placing blame is key. When faced with a tricky situation, I have seen that it is based on elements out of my control and can be more emotionally based. Lead with compassion and understanding, and then explain where the snags happened and why they did. Picking up the phone as soon as possible when you feel something is going south is also a win. – Christopher Tompkins, The Go! Agency

12. TAKE A BREATH.

It’s important to remember that you can defuse tension by becoming more relaxed. Start by paying attention to your thoughts and feelings. Notice if your body is tight in any way. Consciously relax your muscles and take a few deep breaths. Just a few moments of doing this will bring your focus back and help you deal with the situation well. – Syed Balkhi, WPBeginner

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