When you\u2019re a nice person, conflict can be a real challenge. Not that mean people are any better at conflict; they just enjoy it more.\n\nResearch from Columbia University shows that how you handle conflict can make or break your career. The researchers measured something scientifically that many of us have seen firsthand\u2014people who are too aggressive in conflict situations harm their performance by upsetting and alienating their peers, while people who are too passive at handling conflict hinder their ability to reach their goals.\n\nThe secret to effective handling of conflict is assertiveness\u2014that delicate place where you get your needs met without bullying the other person into submission. Assertive people strike a careful balance between passivity and aggression (that is, they never lean too far in either direction).\nHow To Handle Conflict Assertively\nIt\u2019s easy to think that nice people are too passive. While that\u2019s often true, unchecked passivity can boil over into aggression. So there are plenty of very nice people out there who have exhibited both extremes of the assertiveness spectrum.\n\nTo be assertive, you need to learn to engage in\u00a0healthy\u00a0conflict. Healthy conflict directly and constructively addresses the issue at hand without ignoring or trivializing the needs of either party. The strategies that follow will get you there.\n\nConsider the repercussions of silence.\u00a0Sometimes it\u2019s hard to muster the motivation to speak up when the likelihood is high that things will turn ugly. The fastest way to motivate yourself to act is to fully consider the costs of not speaking up\u2014they\u2019re typically far greater than not standing up for yourself. The trick is that you need to shift your attention away from a headache that will come with getting involved to all of the things you stand to gain from your assertiveness.\n\nSay \u201cand\u201d instead of \u201cbut.\u201d\u00a0The simple act of replacing the word \u201cbut\u201d with \u201cand\u201d makes conflict much more constructive and collaborative. Say, for example, that your teammate John wants to use the majority of your budget on a marketing campaign, but you\u2019re worried that doing so won\u2019t leave enough money for a critical new hire. Instead of saying, \u201cI see that you want to use the money for marketing, but I think we need to make a new hire,\u201d say \u201cI see that you want to use the money for marketing, and I think we need to make a new hire.\u201d The difference is subtle, but the first sentence minimizes the value of his idea. The second sentence states the problem as you see it, without devaluing his idea, which then opens things up for discussion. Saying \u201cand\u201d makes the other party feel like you\u2019re working with them, rather than against them.\n\nUse hypotheticals.\u00a0When you assert yourself, you don\u2019t want it to look like you\u2019re poking holes in their idea (even when you are). Hypotheticals are the perfect way to pull this off. Telling someone, for example, \u201cYour new product idea won\u2019t work because you overlooked how the sales team operates\u201d comes across much more aggressively than suggesting the hypothetical, \u201cHow do you think our sales team will go about selling this new product?\u201d When you see a flaw and present a hypothetical, you\u2019re engaging with the original idea and giving the other party a chance to explain how it might work. This shows that you\u2019re willing to hear the other person out.\n\nDon\u2019t speak in absolutes (\u201cYou Always\u201d or \u201cYou Never.\u201d)\u00a0No one always or never does anything. People don\u2019t see themselves as one-dimensional, so you shouldn\u2019t attempt to define them as such. Using these phrases during conflict makes people defensive and closed off to your message. Instead, point out what the other person did that\u2019s a problem for you. Stick to the facts. If the frequency of the behavior is an issue, you can always say, \u201cIt seems like you do this often.\u201d or \u201cYou do this often enough for me to notice.\u201d\n\nAsk good questions until you get to the heart of the matter.\u00a0Failing to understand the motive behind someone\u2019s behavior throws fuel on the fire of conflict, because it makes everything they do appear foolish and shortsighted. Instead of pointing out flaws, you should seek to understand where the other person is coming from. Try asking good questions, such as\u00a0Why did you choose to do it that way? What do you mean by that?\u00a0and\u00a0Can you help me to understand this better?\u00a0Even when you don\u2019t see eye to eye, using questions to get to the underlying motive builds trust and understanding, both of which are conflict killers.\n\nWhen you challenge, offer solutions.\u00a0People don\u2019t like it when they feel as if you\u2019re attempting to take apart their idea right off the bat. When you challenge someone\u2019s idea, but also offer a solution, you demonstrate that you want to work together to come up with a fix. This reinforces the value of their idea, even if it\u2019s full of holes. For example, you might say \u201cOne potential problem that I see with your idea is ___. However, I think we can overcome this problem if we can just figure out a way to___.\u201d In this example, you aren\u2019t even providing the solution. You\u2019re just acknowledging that you\u2019re willing to work together to find one.\nBringing It All Together\nMastering conflict requires emotional intelligence. Emotionally intelligent people know how to craft their message in a conflict, whether they\u2019re naturally assertive or not. They take other people\u2019s feelings into account while still asserting themselves confidently.