Leveraging Emotional Intelligence when Handling Conflict

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Recently, I was asked to prepare and deliver a training on conflict management for an organization. As I started to consider different options for presenting meaningful information, I consistently returned to the basic tenets of emotional intelligence. The term “emotional intelligence” has become a buzzword in today’s organizations, but few of us really understand the true meaning.

Emotional intelligence skills can be divided into four categories: self-awareness, self-management, social awareness and relationship management. Within each category is a set of skills that, when coupled with conflict resolution tools and techniques, will yield positive results.

Self-awareness: Self-awareness is the ability to recognize and understand your moods emotions, and drives as well as their effect on others. Those that are self-aware, recognize their automatic reactions or emotional triggers and have learned to neutralize them. They proceed with caution while keeping themselves in check.

Those that have low self-awareness tend to become externally focused on the person or situation that has “caused” the problem they face, and allow their reactions to “hijack” their behavior. This altered state of mind is often referred to as a neural hijack and can lead to unhealthy, emotionally reactive behavior.

Self-Management: Self-management is the ability to think before acting. Instead of letting reactions dictate behavior, they can explore possible strategies prior to taking action. Their energy is focused on slowing down and making conscious choices about what to do. Self-management is the skill set that enables you to exert conscious control over your behavior.

Social Awareness: Social-awareness is being proficient in managing relationships. Those that are not socially aware, tend to make false assumptions in the heat of the moment. In general, when emotions are triggered they assume the worst, and their assumptions fuel the fire of their reactive behavior.
On the other hand, those who are socially aware, attend to others and can establish empathy. Empathy is the ability to understand the emotional makeup of other people and have skills in treating people according to their emotional reactions. They look for positive intentions behind negative behavior. Instead of reacting negatively to “bad” behavior, they seek to respond to the other person’s positive intentions and to lead them toward behaviors that better express those intentions.

Relationship Management: Those who are not adept at managing relationships, often lose their perspective of time when they are emotionally charged. Despite whatever ongoing relationship they may have with someone, when negative emotional reactions are triggered they are likely to react with destructive behavior undermining their future relationship with that person. Those that are skilled at managing relationships, remain cognizant of the fact that how they interact in the present determines the quality of their relationships in the future. Keeping this broader perspective during conflict helps them to focus on self-awareness, self-management and social awareness, resisting the impulse to react negatively.

Emotional intelligence is essential for managing any conflict we face in our everyday lives. As we all know, conflict appears in every relationship we have – work, home, friendships, etc. Being able to effectively manage conflict is about leveraging emotional intelligence skills to consider outcomes from the perspective of our relationships. Too often, we find ourselves arguing about petty issues; and if we aren’t careful, these interactions can trigger waves of defensiveness and hostility. However, they are skills that have to be learned, practiced and internalized if they are to be successful.

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