Use your emotional intelligence to deal with others in conflict more effectively

"Any fool can know, the point is to understand" – Albert Einstein.

Conflict in the workplace is: (a) avoidable, (b) preventable, (c) necessary, or (d) all of the above.

You guessed it; the correct answer is (d). Conflict occurs in every organization; it is natural and expected. The more important matter is to learn how to effectively handle conflict with others.

Anyone who takes time to research conflict will quickly understand its power to transform the situation into something better. However, unresolved conflict can reduce employee morale and negatively affect performance due to increased stress. It can decrease productivity, increase absenteeism and (at worst) foster aggression or violence.

Our first reaction to any situation is generally emotional. In times of conflict, this emotional reaction can take over and control the process. There is an instinctive "fight or flight" physical response to escalating stress. Our emotional intelligence describes our ability to understand our (and other’s) emotions and recognize those emotions as they surface. The goal is to use that increased awareness to more effectively manage our interactions with others, especially in stressful situations.

Emotional intelligence is a personal attribute that is very useful in easing conflict. People with a high emotional intelligence are empathetic and sensitive to the feelings of others. Peter J. Jordan and Ashlea C. Troth, authors of “Emotional Intelligence and Conflict Resolution: Implications for Human Resource Development”, studied the connection between emotional intelligence and preferred styles of conflict resolution. The results consistently showed that individuals with high emotional intelligence preferred to seek collaborative solutions when confronted with conflict.

Dealing with co-workers as human beings with real lives is often ignored in the busy workplace. However, people who can do this (while maintaining appropriate boundaries) have developed skills to effectively combine professionalism with genuine emotions like sensitivity and empathy as they strive for more effective conflict resolution and useful outcomes.

You can increase your emotional intelligence by following this simple rule:
Make statements of fact, ask questions for clarification, and listen with your mouth shut.

Tell the facts of the situation as you see it. What are the impacts on yourself and others? Do not pass judgment on what or whom you believe to be the problem.

Explain the general outcome you’d like to see, but not specifically what you want for yourself. How do you propose to resolve this conflict in a way that works for everyone? You must make an effort to recognize each other’s needs in discussion.

Ask fact-based questions (who? what? where? when? how?) to make sure you understand the situation from the other’s perspective. Use your own words to restate what you think the other person means and wants. Summarize the other’s feelings that you hear being expressed, and reframe what you believe you heard as a proposed solution. Ask exploratory questions (What if? What are you saying? Is this the only solution to our problem? Are there other alternatives to this situation?)

The Michigan State University Extension Leadership and Community Engagement team offers training for improved effectiveness in several areas, including communicating through conflict, volunteer board development, meeting management and facilitation skills development, and organizational strategic visioning and planning.

Did you find this article useful?