A message pops up in the company chat channel: A new marketing idea “for discussion” from a colleague. You’re immediately irritated, because you’ve got a hundred other things on your plate and deadlines looming – but you also have strong opinions and want to ensure they’re heard. You compose a terse reply, aware that it’s lacking finesse but intent on getting back to your “real” work.

Soon enough, the discussion escalates with other team members weighing in on all sides. It’s obvious the issue is controversial. You can read the emotional tension between the lines, and it appears battle lines are being drawn.

As collaboration becomes essential for any job, it’s not “if” but “when” you will get into a disagreement with your colleagues. So when it does happen, what are your options for de-escalating a disagreement in the workplace and finding resolution quickly? In my experience, the most critical ingredient to settling conflicts is clarity on the grounds of disagreement. This isn’t always as simple as it seems, because while it may appear that you’re arguing over deadlines, typography, or project roles, there are often unspoken tensions at play that lie well below the surface.

Over many years of collaborative creative work, I’ve developed a toolbox of key questions for getting to the root of conflict and finding a path forward. Here are my top five (with a bonus lightning round at the end).

I’m delighted to have published my first piece for 99u, a publication I’ve long appreciated for its emphasis on “making ideas happen.” Read the full piece here.

It seems to have struck a chord: Lifehacker – another of my favourite sites – has picked up on the “dumbest person in the room” bit (for which I must give credit to my friend Mike Beltzner).