How To Reduce Emotional Reactions During Conflict


It is often not the facts or figures which are the problem in conflict: it is the emotions. Depending on the personalities, situations, power-differentials, topic and skills of each party, conflict creates a wide range of personal emotional reactions.

Take the situation of a difference of opinion with your manager about your performance. The facts may be unclear if you met your manager’s expectations. Expectations are subjective and may not have been outlined specifically. Add to that, your manager has more organizational power than you. Also, it is a situation where money and career advancement are at stake. The emotions begin to ratchet up.

Fear, anxiety, and stress can build and create a barrier to clear communication. Blaming, avoidance and/or arguing often ensue.

Strategies to handle negative emotions

There are several approaches you can use to reduce the negative emotions in yourself and others during conflict. Here are some ideas and phrases you can use:

1. Delay: “Let’s talk about it later when we have more time to think it through”

2. Lower expectations: “I know you won’t like this but I think we need to talk about it anyway.”

3. Start with the positive: “You are very good at ________________________ however, ________________________

4. Sit at the same side of the table. This reduces the psychological barrier of the table and opens up the communication.

5. Break the tension by being relaxed and personal: “I am so glad we are talking about this.” “You are really someone I trust to work this through with.”

6. Include commonalities and points of agreements as you’re are discussing the differences: “You are right we do need to work on ____.”, “It is also getting clear from this conversation that we are doing pretty well with ____”

7. Acknowledge their difficulty: “I see that this is a challenge for you”, “I hear that you are having a hard time with _____”

8. Take responsibility for your part in the problem, if there is any: “I see now how I am contributing to this by doing ______.”

9. Take responsibility for solving the problem: “Next time I _____ ”

10. Apologize, if necessary. “I am so sorry I create this problem”, “I apologize for inadvertently creating such reactions.”

Counter Productive Conflict Beliefs

What comes first, thoughts or feelings? The research on emotional intelligence shows that thoughts come first. Imagine someone you don’t like walks into your office and you have a feeling of dread or stress. If you track back what you were thinking when they walked in, you will see that you had a negative thought such as “Oh no”, or “I don’t want to deal with this right now”.

Our thoughts can be our own worst enemy during conflict. Some thoughts: beliefs that we have found to interfere with resolving conflict include:
*It may resolve itself – Creates a delay in resolving the issue and may build a bigger problem
*It is not important enough – Minimizes the person and issue, which may come back to haunt you.
*He will never understand – This becomes a self-fulfiling prophecy
*It is useless
*It is not me – it is my bosses job to handle this
*That is always someone in government workshops tells me – we can’t have that conversation here – the union – they won’t listen – when you probe you find out they can, it is just hard work and they don’t want to do it.

This was first published in our book Perfect Phrases for Conflict Resolution (McGraw-Hill)


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