The most important person to manage in a conflict is oneself. Without this focus, the chaos that ensues spreads with abandon like a flesh eating fungus. Being able to refrain from engaging in a problem leaves a leader available to engage towards a solution. It also sets the leader apart from the emotions of the moment, leaving them to respond with every portion of their thinking brain.
Most people do not like conflict and will do anything to avoid it. The idea of conflict can differ vastly in meaning. There are some who would consider conflict to be an occasion when someone disagrees with them. Others might describe it as elevated voices, as well as times when people do not listen. Know how conflict is defined in your life and your perceptions about how people respond to you. Through that work, insight can be gained which will enable you to effectively enter the conflict you are called to resolve.
When conflict arises, someone has to practice emotional intelligence in order to influence a positive outcome. According to Badberry and Greaves, controlling emotions and defining the role emotions play in our daily life is what emotional intelligence is about. It is defined as being able to understand your emotions and to recognize emotions in others which will lead to an ability to manage personal behavior and relationships.
The emotionally intelligent individual is a thinker who is mindful of others and their surroundings. It is an intangible ability to navigate difficult situations and work through important decisions that produces positive results.
Managing oneself is a necessary component to achieving emotional intelligence. Bradberry and Greaves, in Emotional Intelligence 2.0, offer legitimate strategies that move one to an awareness of handling oneself in all aspects of life. One such way to accomplish successful self-management with others is to consider every encounter with others as a learning experience, thus relieving the pressure and stress of personalizing the encounter.
Knowing oneself offers everyone else a chance to interact with emotional intelligence. It sounds like an easy prescription to resolving conflict but is most difficult to achieve. Depending on one’s worldview, knowing who one is can be too painful an experience to attempt and live out. Many times people assume the persona of others while masking their true self in the process.
Something is going on internally
Conflicted people are usually afraid of something, which inspires them to be unsettled, causing everyone around them to be susceptible to the vacuum of their dysfunction. Even storm chasers get just close enough to the chaos without becoming a part of it. The conflicted person creates the tornado and extends a hand to whoever lacks the emotional maturity to refrain from joining in. What follows is a disorderly mess with no resolve.
Engaging in conflict involves a biological response of the limbic system, in particular the amygdala, which sounds the signal of danger and moves an individual to protect themselves at all costs. It may start with words and can easily escalate to a perception that physical protection is the only recourse. When that stage is reached, the damage that is done is most difficult to resolve.
The spiritual connection
For the one who believes in God and the truth of the cross, defining the core self is not complicated. It is difficult, however, as it requires the exercise of faith to believe that God has freed all from their wrongdoings and adds mercy to the mix in spite of the grace of the pain of the cross. Ephesians 2:8 explains how this gift comes solely from God with nothing to be added by humans in order to eliminate the pride that often follows works.
When the identity of self is grounded in the work of the cross that transformation can then support the ability to handle conflict from a spiritual perspective and understanding. Many times the act of Jesus, when he cleared the temple, is used as an excuse for allowing anger to be a part of everyday life. That thought process misses the point that Jesus, who is God, acted in a human body, but handled the business of God, leaving the comparison to man’s anger a weak example. Jesus’ point of view was different than ours.
Managing one’s involvement in conflict moves from knowing who one is to being empathic towards the conflict maker. That person thinks, perceives and expresses themselves in a unique manner and it is imperative to interact with them on their level of abilities without the expectations they can see things as they should. It requires a focus on the person, their affect and the words they expel. All of this information gathering in the moment will allow for the thinking brain to keep functioning so that the biological process previously described does not set off the fight or flight stage.
Establishing mental focal points is one way to address the habit of reacting to a distressful encounter. This involves taking the time to keep the brain thinking and distracted from defensive talk. For example, when someone puts out an accusation that is not true, a focal point could consist of self-talk which asks the question, “Is what they are saying true?” If the answer is yes, then resolve to correct that behavior if it is problematic. If the answer is no, then resolve that the truth does not need to be defended. While the aggressor may be tantrumming there will be an obvious contrast between behaviors. The party who has emotional control will walk away with both peace and power.
Be a first responder and not a first reactor. The first responder earned the name because when they appear on the scene, they are calm and focused on assessing the scene and then taking action. A first reactor arrives with their own anxiety that spreads a negative attitude over the scene, which interferes with the victim’s ability to trust the help that is being administered and could negatively interfere with the outcome.
Avoid thinking that others are manipulative and present a roadblock to impede good decision making. An external view that others are to blame for personal choices supports a victim mentality. It leaves one thinking they have less control over life, which is far from the truth. Owning one’s decision making abilities as well as the resulting decisions is essential. Blamers do not handle conflict very effectively and many times are the perpetrators of conflict.
Defensiveness is a communication killer. The defensive person approaches issues with passionate anger and insecurity. There is also a recognizable affect that attaches to the defensive person. Imagine raised clenched fists, tense muscles and agitation. Many times they confidently describe walls they have installed in their lives for their emotional safety. The reality is that the walls of defensiveness feed conflict.
Watch people and observe interactions in different settings.as an educational task. Take note of the differences in affect of people in varying circumstances. Observe an argument and note the emotions that may, or may not be seen.
Managing me in conflict starts with knowing me before the conflict. Doing the work to refine my attitudes and define what I stand for produces a peacemaker.
Bradberry, T. and Greaves, J. (2009). Emotional Intelligence 2.0. San Diego, CA: Talent Smart.
How to negotiate co-worker conflicts: 7 tips for managers. (2018). HR Specialist, 16(8), 6.