When a conflict arises, tensions are high and to some degree the higher-order mental processes are compromised. Reactions can range from anger and aggressive conduct to unwarranted agreeableness. Both are reactions to fear and helplessness over a loss of traction required to reach an agreement.

The key to hitting the sweet spot of traction in a dispute is to achieve a state of polite assertiveness or a posture of quiet confidence. The path to polite assertiveness is to carefully explore underlying needs and beliefs through the power of curious questions. Questions can be an amazing workaround to derail unproductive mental chatter and usher in quiet confidence via self-knowledge.

  1. What beliefs about this work did you hold before starting this project?
  2. In your view, what event started this conflict? This could be the point in time when your faith or confidence in the other party was compromised.

Quiet confidence is the ability to speak your truth with polite assertiveness because you’re secure about your choices.

  1. List your five deepest values in order of priority. For example: Efficiency, Time, Money, Security and Justice; or Peace, Relationships, Pleasing a Higher Power, Status and Competency. You can customize this list.

Remember, both sides are feeling insecure or anxious. Traction can slip when one side resorts to bullying or arrogance. The sweet spot of traction is somewhere between feeling like a doormat and a bully. It’s crucial to find your calmer self despite alarms going off.

  1. What do you already agree about?
  2. Where do you disagree most strongly?

While people may disagree with your thoughts, opinions or beliefs, you’ll retain respect and garner more goodwill concessions if you can communicate what you’ve observed and what you want with polite assertiveness.

  1. In evaluating potential solutions, how will you recognize when a proposed solution is better than fighting?

When trying to prove a point, use factual statements rather than statements based on opinions. Facts are more persuasive than opinions, and they’re necessary to back up certain views. Offer real ideas or facts to help a cause and be open to ideas.

  1. If you’re unable to agree, what do you currently believe is your best-case scenario result outside of this conversation?
  2. What is your worst-case scenario?

When you state an opinion or your feelings, be sure to talk in first-person narrative to take ownership of them, which makes your message more effective.

  1. What might the other person do or say to really push your buttons?
  2. How do you view the other person’s role in this conflict?
  3. How do you view your role in this conflict?

For many of us, the desire to be liked leads us to feel like a pushover and shut down proactive conflict prevention. If being likeable doesn’t create traction, it can cause a building tension and overcorrection. Being a bully can be immediately off-putting, and if it doesn’t work, it’ll gum up the traction. Asking yourself curious questions and taking the time to jot down answers can lead to self-knowledge. Coupled with assertion of facts and a polite tone, this can lead to constructive dialogue and better outcomes.