How Emotionally Intelligent People Manage Conflict

November 10, 2017 • 8 minute read • by Saeed


“Conflict is the beginning of consciousness.” ~ M. Esther Harding

As emotional intelligence gains more traction as a 21st century skill in the workplace, more research is beginning to emerge that demonstrates that individuals with high emotional intelligence prefer to seek collaborative solutions when confronted with conflict. The implications for human resource development will continue to be examined and be of significance in productivity and organizational change management.

In the meantime, let’s figure out how to deal with the pain in the neck sitting in the next cubicle over. I’m kidding of course. It’s actually important to remember that everyone you encounter is doing the best they can from their own level of consciousness.

Let’s get started.

First: Manage the Emotions

Conflict arises from differences. When a conflict triggers strong feelings, a deep personal and relational need is at the core of the problem. To be successful at conflict management, you have to start by being successful at managing your own emotions.

Therefore, it makes sense to use the frame of emotional intelligence to resolve conflict. Daniel Goleman has identified the building blocks of emotional intelligence to be: Self Awareness, Self Regulation, Social Awareness, and Relationship Management.

In a conflict resolution context, that might look like this:

·        Self-Awareness – Manage stress while remaining calm to accurately read and interpret verbal and nonverbal communication. Be aware of your own body language. The capacity to remain relaxed and focused in tense situations is vital to successful conflict resolution.  Staying calm and centered also helps you think through better solutions.

·        Self-Regulation – Control your emotions and behavior so you can articulate your needs in such a way that they are heard by others. Although self-regulation may seem simple on the surface, many people ignore, sedate or suppress strong emotionslike anger, sadness, and fear. This is not the same as self-regulation. Self regulation is about thinking before acting and seeing the good in others rather than the bad. It is about the ability to calm yourself down when angry and cheer yourself up when sad. It is about being flexible and adaptable.

·        Social Awareness – Pay attention to the feelings being expressed as well as the spoken words of the other. Pay attention to the social context. Pay attention to body language. The most important information conveyed in a conflict context is often non-verbal. When you’re in the middle of a conflict, paying close attention to the other person’s nonverbal signals may help you figure out what the other person is really saying, respond in a way that builds trust, and get to the root of the problem

·        Relationship Management – Be aware and respectful of differences by avoiding disrespectful words and actions which will help you resolve the conflict more expediently. Maintaining and strengthening the relationship, rather than “winning” the argument, should always be your first priority. Resolving conflict is impossible if you’re unwilling or unable to forgive or to let go. Be respectful of the other person and his or her point of view.

If you are out of touch with your feelings or so stressed that you can only pay attention to a limited number of emotions, you won’t be able to understand your own needs or the needs of another.

Second: Manage the Situation

Managing conflict takes skilled communication, negotiation, and sometimes mediation. A timely response to conflict situations is essential in finding solutions before conflicts are over inflated and become cancerous cells in the body of the organization (or frankly in the body of the person).

Conflict, handled well, can be a learning experience. Conflict handled poorly, can have a deleterious effect on the working relationship of colleagues.

To manage the situation use this 6 step process:

1.      Acknowledge – First acknowledge the conflict. Acknowledge that something is challenging you in order to open the door to creating a solution.

2.      Affirm – Let individuals express their feelings. Some feelings of anger and/or hurt usually accompany conflict situations. Before any kind of problem-solving can take place, these emotions should be affirmed.

3.      Attribute – Don’t immediately get out the blame thrower. Find out exactly the root of the problem – what it’s attributable to – not whose fault it was. There is a difference. For example, you may find that it was something in the environment that caused the problem and not the other person. If that is the case, an entirely different type of solution may be needed.

4.      Accept –The goal of conflict resolution is not to decide which person is right or wrong; the goal is to reach a solution that everyone can accept. Look first for needs and common ground. Find solutions to satisfy needs. Problem-solve by generating multiple alternatives.

5.      Agree – Always work towards common areas of agreement, no matter how small. Agree on the problem. Agree on the procedure to follow. Agree on worst fears. Agree on some small changes to give an experience of success. Whether small, medium or larger, be sure you get real agreement from everyone.

6.      Act – Finally, put a plan of action in place. Determine which actions will be taken by whom and when and how often. Make sure all parties buy into the action plan. Maintain accountability to the agreed upon actions.

Third: Manage the Solution

If you’ve gotten this far in the conflict management process, you’ve done the major part of the work and you should celebrate and congratulate yourself. But don’t count your chickens before they hatch. You do have to manage the solution too because while there is always good momentum behind the initial agreed upon actions, people have a tendency to quickly slip into old habits. Determine follow-up you will take to monitor actions. You may want to schedule a follow-up meeting in a couple of weeks to determine how things are going. Don’t stockpile issues and grievances in the meantime. Deal with issues as they arise; one at a time. Make sure your responses are healthy and constructive. Finally, determine in advance what you’ll do if the conflict goes unresolved.

Final Word

Conflict avoidance is not a learning mentality. We can actually grow from conflict by becoming conscious about our own participation, our own triggers, and our own ego. Conflict can be good for us.

But for the final word, I want to keep it real.

You may not be able to negotiate your way through every conflict. Some people are simply too stubborn to reason with and sometimes you have to give yourself that reality check. For example, passive-aggressive people are one of the most difficult personality types when it comes to conflict. Their silence, a sign of their passive resistance to resolution, is a non-starter. Some people have learned to only deal with conflict using explosive, angry, hurtful, and resentful reactions. Their ego is so fragile that they must win at all costs. Loss of relationship to these people is an afterthought. In such instances, a neutral outside facilitator (or mediator depending on the severity of the conflict) may be needed . In some cases the conflict becomes a performance issue, and may become a topic for coaching sessions, performance appraisals, or disciplinary action. There are also times when it’s best to cut the cord and move on.

Good luck.

Wait! Before you go…

I really appreciate that you are reading my post. If you found it helpful, I invite you to follow me on LinkedIn or subscribe to read exclusive content on my BLOG.

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I write personal and professional development articles to help readers be the most effective human being they can be; in short, to help you find your inner awesomeness. By liking, commenting, sharing, and following, you are encouraging me to keep going. It is my direct feedback loop that tells me that I am providing value to you.

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Last thing, if you liked this post, consider checking out my other recent posts for inspiration and concrete actions steps to become more effective at work and life.

Best,

Saeed

©2017 – All Content by Saeed H. Mirfattah, M.A.

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