How to manage unforeseen conflict situations

Ever experienced a situation as a leader, where you really had no idea what to do?

You’re suddenly confronted by this unforeseen, challenging circumstance and you’re stumped. Where to from here. How will I make this work? 

I hear you.  I remember I was in the tea room this one day, and suddenly I hear a lady’s voice coming from the front office. She was screaming so very loudly, swearing, banging on the desk, and then I hear this baby crying hysterically… I knew at that moment that something was just not right. And then I hear ”If you don’t f—-ng give it to me, then I’ll just leave the baby here on your desk, how would you like that eh?.”

My first thought was, geeperz… what the hell is going on out there…

Our first instinct as humans is to panic.

All I could think about at that moment was: ”I’ve got to get out there quick, I’ve got to see what’s going on. I’ve got to get to the staff, the customers, the woman, her baby. ”

I took a massive deep breath and stood up. I took a moment to get my head right. 

I immediately started to assess things in my mind as I was making my way towards where all the commotion was coming from.

The spotlight is on you

If it’s one thing I’ve learned over the years, particularly working as a front of house leader in a very fast-paced, aggressive environment, is that, as leaders, we must always be focused and well prepared. 

We must have great systems and structures in place, both internally and externally,  so that when the unexpected occurs, we’re ON and ready. Because, if we have structures in place, this then helps our people to feel safe; and that they know that they’re not alone. 

Every leader goes through challenging situations. Situations you’ve possibly not encountered before and this is where our experience along the way can help us to get through this, no matter what the circumstance. 

As I walked towards the staff member and the client with her baby, I immediately started to prepare myself. I shifted my physiology, my facial expression, my breathing, I needed her to feel safe when she got the first glimpse of me, I needed to make sure that all of me, internally and externally, appeased and not exacerbated the situation. My body already started communicating to her and I hadn’t even opened my mouth yet. 

See, as a team, we’d pre-planned for incidents such as these. Staff knew what needed to be done in situations such as these. They knew that someone needed to attend to the customers in the office, that staff needed to check on each other, and more importantly to keep an eye on the incident itself, in case it got out of hand and we needed to take a different approach. 

I had no idea what this lady was capable of, whether she’d hurt her baby, whether she’d hurt herself, whether she’d hurt others…

When I got to the desk, she was quite irate, quite angry, verbally aggressive, and starting to push things off the desk, while still holding her crying baby. At this point, I needed to be strategic of my very next move. 

She became quite verbally aggressive with me, understandably so, here’s this other person here.  I get it. I let her BE because anger, is a secondary emotion. Anger exists for many reasons. It could be feeling out of control; Let down, unsupported, scared…She was angry because she was in an abusive situation at home, had no money, no food for her baby. I get that. She was desperate for someone to acknowledge her, validate her, hear her, and understand her.  

I took a deep breath, and with warm chocolate tonality, I said, ‘’you know what,  you’ve got every right to feel pissed off, to feel angry, to feel scared, I get it”…

That was it, it was all she needed. It stopped there. She burst into tears, gave her baby to me, and fell to the floor, crying. It was heartbreaking to watch. 

We’re human, we need validation. We need people to hear us. To see us. To understand us. Our way. 

Here’s the thing, no training alone will ever make you resilient. Make you confident. Brave. A better communicator. No training alone will ever help you to achieve the results you want to unless you become self-aware.  It comes down to you. To your self-awareness. 

Of all the training I’ve had over the years, and I’ve had stacks and loads because of where I worked, and I discovered that I needed to invest in myself, in my own personal development too. I needed to know what made me tick before I could understand anyone else. I needed to learn more about myself and then how to change my own behavior to be able to connect and have influence on someone else. No training alone will change you unless you know yourself enough to know-how. 

Not one situation is the same. Things don’t always go to plan. They don’t always go to script. We can’t and we shouldn’t use the same script and tools for everything and everyone. It just doesn’t work like that. 

Communicating to Connect and have Influence

I want to share with you briefly my thinking that day and how I structured it in my mind: 

  1. I brought my human. I took a deep breath – tapped into my human – my values – my attitude – told myself it wasn’t about me – reminded myself I’ve got this – asked myself ‘’how can I help this person’’ – I made it about others – took another breath 
  2. I assessed the situation – I listened to what was going on – what was not being said – as I walked towards her, I observed her behavior and that of my staff and customers – tapped into expanded awareness, who was around who needed to be looked after – were there kids in the office? Elderly? What was on the staff members desk that could potentially be used as a weapon to harm herself, her baby, others – I reserved judgment – I asked myself what result did I want to achieve 
  3. I adjusted my physiology –  I walked slowly and calmly towards her – I adjusted my tonality, the speed and volume of my voice to suit – my breathing I softened my facial expression – adjusted my mindset – my language to match hers

It matters to pay attention, to be present, to observe, to listen, to notice what’s going on. What works, what doesn’t. If you’re not getting the result you want, then you gotta try something different, tweak it.

Over the years I’ve been fortunate enough to receive training from world-class trainers. Trainers within the Victorian Police Force, within the Protective Security Group. Intensive training,  continuous training. When we fill our skills toolkit with training, we’ve lots to choose from. When we put things into practice from our training, we’re also adding to our toolkit of skills. 

Here’s the thing, no matter how much training we have, we’ve got to remember that it’s never one size fits all. Everyone is so very different. Everyone reacts differently. People are affected differently.  We all feel different things. So, having these skills yes, gives us a foundation, and then we slowly build on that through our experience, through what we learn,. We test out different strategies, add a little here, take out something there. It’s a forever learning thing.  


After the incident: 

  1. I took a deep breath
  2. Went around checked in with all the staff. Asked how they were? Because this was quite a confronting situation. Made sure everyone took time out and went outside got some fresh air. 
  3. Went around and checked all the customers who had witnessed the situation because, although it was a daily occurrence for me and my staff, this certainly isn’t something that people outside the organization experience on a regular basis. It can be quite a traumatising experience. So, I went around and asked if anyone needed anything, if they needed support, perhaps someone to talk to. I went around and softly spoke to the children and elderly in the office. 

Being prepared matters. There’s a process and in that process, everyone matters.  

  • It’s being self-aware – understanding ourselves, FIRST.
  • It’s self-regulation –  being able to control your emotions, even when circumstances are challenging, difficult, and confronting.
  • It’s being able to read and identify emotions in others; bringing compassion, empathy.
  • it’s having the Social skills to be able to get along with through listening, understanding, and appreciating others deeply

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