Conflict at Work.


As with any other relationship in our lives, occasional conflict is a normal and unavoidable part of the whole. This is true in the workplace, and among teams and clients. As leaders, difficult conversations are something that we know comes with the territory, and we have all experienced. However, while many leaders approach conflict in a workplace setting from a purely logical and policy-driven standpoint, this tactic only covers a part of the solution. Emotions are always a part of any human interaction, and cannot be ignored.

In fact according to Susan David, author of Emotional Agility and leading management thinker, research shows that suppressing your emotions in a situation of conflict only leads to detrimental results to the relationship down the line. Bottling up our feelings results in what psychologists refer to as “emotional leakage” in which unexpressed emotions rise up in unexpected and unavoidable ways. The bottom line is that emotions matter, and whether we choose to acknowledge them or not, their impact is real.

When dealing with difficult conversations in the workplace, it is best to employ a strategy based on the principles of emotional intelligence. This method utilizes both logic and social and emotional understanding to address the entirety of the issue at hand. Some takeaways from expert Susan David on how to resolve workplace conflict through emotional intelligence:

  • Recognize the emotions at work in the situation. Employ empathy to understand the other person, but also acknowledge your own emotions at play.

  • Assess the impact of these emotions on the behavior. Keep in mind the power of both negative and positive emotions, and that emotions are a double-edged sword.

  • Seek understanding. Establish why these emotions are present. What are the underlying factors?

  • Manage emotions by employing empathy and emotional intelligence to achieve the desired outcome.

It’s important to remember that emotions aren’t just the result of conflict- often they are the conflict. Trust and relationship building are essential for satisfying the emotional needs of team members in order to overcome conflict. One major way that trust is built is through connections, and getting to know one another’s humanity in different contexts. Seemingly idle ‘chit chat’ with a direct report or a boss is not wasted time. This is where connection and trust are built. Trust is the groundwork of any relationship, and without establishing trust, no other progress can be made.  

Relationship building is also critical for a successful team, and relies on trust. Keep in mind the three tenets to accomplishing relationship buildings: Establishing competency- can they do the work? Establishing integrity- will they do they work? Establishing benevolence- do they have my best interest at heart?

Emotions are always a part of any human interaction, and they must be considered. However, at the end of the day we can only control ourselves, so expanding our own social and emotional intelligence to understand how I feel equips us to better identify and acknowledge how someone else is feeling. Our emotional capacity for others is in direct relationship to the capacity that we have for ourselves. Strengthening our emotional intelligence equips us to successfully manage workplace conflicts, create trust and strong relationships with our team and clients, and better understand the emotions of ourselves and others.