10 Ways to Manage Emotions During Conflict in the Workplace

Lawrence Polsky
Posted: 06/06/2011

While we are busy managing our own feelings during conflict, we often forget that the other person is having the same problem.

Take this example: You’re working on an important project and a peer is unresponsive. You need their input in order to move forward, but they don’t respond to your emails or calls. The deadline is approaching fast. You decide you are going to confront them. You set up a meeting, and start off by telling them that you are frustrated because you need the information to finish the task that your manager needs in just 2 days. You start to feel relieved that you are airing your concerns. But then, your colleague lets it rip and start talking about their own heavy workload, attacking you for being so impatient.

How do you handle it? This is one of the dozens of situations I’ve seen that inspired the ten simple strategies I’ve outlined to reduce negative emotions during conflict situations. By using any of these, you set yourself up, and your colleague, to resolve conflict rather than increase it.

1. Delay. As helpful as it is to face problems head on, putting things off is sometimes a smart strategy. "Let's talk about it later when we have more time to think it through".

2. Expectation Management. Setting the stage helps people get emotionally prepared. "I know you won't like this, but I think we need to talk about it anyway."

3. Appreciation, Then Correction. Balancing positive aspects of the relationship with the negative will help reduce strong reactions. "You are very good at ____. We simply need to adjust ____"

4. Same Side. Sit at the same side of the table when delivering bad news. This reduces the psychological barrier of the table and opens up the communication.

5. Relief. Sharing the range of your true feelings builds rapport, trust and sets the right tone. Try saying: "I am so glad we are talking about this," or "You are really someone I trust to work this through with."

6. Leverage Positive. Remember to remember what is going well. "It is also clear from this conversation that we are doing pretty well with ____"

7. Acknowledgement. Seeing things from the other person’s point of view will help them know you are not out to get them, but are really trying to work out an issue. "I see that this is a challenge for you", "I understand that you are having a hard time with _____"

8. Your Responsibility in the Problem. There are two sides of every problem. Taking responsibility for your part will build the relationship. And it is the right thing to do! "I see now how I am contributing to this by doing ______."

9. Your Responsibility In The Solution. Promise to action will ease the conflict conversation. "Next time I will _____ ."

10. Sincere Apology (If appropriate). Apologizing is the ultimate acknowledgement of any wrong doing. "I am so sorry I created this problem", "I apologize for inadvertently creating such reactions."

I have found that these phrases and strategies consistently reduce negative emotions that a listener may experience during tough conversations. The key, of course, is they must be 100% genuine. Words that are not backed with corresponding feelings will come across as manipulative and do more harm than good in the end.

The next time you are in the midst of a conflict, remember: so is the person you are talking to! Emotional intelligence in the workplace is an invaluable soft skill. Take the time to consider others' points of view and use one of these strategies to increase your success.

Lawrence Polsky
Posted: 06/06/2011

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