Interpersonal tension is an inescapable fact of business. Whether a co-worker, a customer, or a vendor, business is made up of people, and people run into conflict. When tension arises, some people have a tendency to simply flee it, others become combative, and others feel stuck and unsure what to do. Flight, fight, freeze.

My business partner and fellow Growth Guru Rick Faber teaches curiosity as the antidote. The next time something happens that triggers this flight, fight, or freeze response in you, says Rick, try getting curious instead. Seek more information about what is motivating the other person, what their concerns are, what fears they may have, or even what they think about related topics. Getting curious and asking questions can go a long way toward diffusing a difficult and tense situation.

Admittedly, this is sometimes easier said than done. But as Franklin Covey reminds us in his 7 Habits series, we have the ability to choose how to respond to any situation. Covey tells a story of being disturbed by rambunctious kids on a subway ride in New York. The father of the rowdy children was doing nothing to corral them and finally, Covey had had enough. He asked the father to get the kids under control. The father apologized and explained that they were coming from the hospital where their mother had just died. Obviously, Covey’s grid for what was going on immediately changed and his irritation at the situation vanished.

One thing I would add to Rick’s insight: The more curious we can be before the irritation sets in the more likely we are to prevent these irritations from occurring in the first place.

-Eric Smith