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Emotional Intelligence and conflict

"When dealing with people, remember you are not dealing with creatures of logic, but with creatures of emotion.” - Dale Carnegie

It’s probably not a surprise if I were to share with you that most conflicts don’t get resolved purely through logic and brainpower. Yes, observation and analysis are vital, yet becoming adept at managing conflict productively requires a different kind of “smarts.”

I’m not talking about reasoning intelligence, often referred to as IQ (one’s technical smarts)—your ability to crunch numbers and complete the New York Times crossword puzzle.

I’m talking about the ability that truly great leaders have beyond technical skills. The right stuff. We’ve all seen highly skilled execs who were promoted into a critical position only to fail—while someone with solid, yet not extraordinary, technical skills thrived in a similar position.

The difference? It’s the “other” kind of smart. It’s called Emotional Intelligence.

In this post, we will look at emotional intelligence and provide practical tips on how you can use it to manage conflict more effectively.

What is EI?

There are many different definitions and models of emotional intelligence that have arisen since the concept was first suggested by Yale researchers, Peter Salovey and John Mayer, in an obscure (and now extinct) psychological journal in 1990. It was later popularized by Daniel Goleman in his 1996 book Emotional Intelligence. (Goleman's book went on to become a best-seller and inspire a movement.)

Ask five different people to define emotional intelligence and you’ll get five different answers. However, we can generalize. Here are a few of the characteristics:

Self-awareness—The ability to recognize and understand our emotions and the impact those emotions have on others. The decisions of people with high self-awareness are in line with their values. They are the type of people who are willing to turn down a lucrative job offer because they know it doesn’t fit with their personal goals. They play to their strengths, and they know when to ask for help.

Self-regulation—Controlling or redirecting disruptive impulses. Thinking before acting. The self-regulating person is engaged in an ongoing inner conversation. They take negative impulses and control them—even channel them in useful ways.

Motivation—Being driven to achieve for the sake of achievement. Unflagging energy to improve. These are the type of people who are always raising their performance bar. During personal reviews, they ask their boss to “stretch” them.

Empathy—Does the word seem unbusinesslike? Too soft to deal with the hard realities of the workplace? Not so. The empathetic person takes other people’s feelings into account when making decisions, along with other factors. It’s all about understanding other people’s emotional makeup and considering the impact when making decisions.

Social skills—Building rapport with others so that, together, you can accomplish great things. A person with high EI skills knows nothing gets done alone.

Becoming a person of high EI

Think of someone you know that can help others through emotional or tense situations. They tactfully bring disagreements into the open. They are good at defining solutions that everyone can endorse. They respect the views of all sides and redirect the team’s energy toward a shared resolution. Something everybody can get behind.

This is someone who uses their emotional intelligence to resolve conflicts.

The emotionally intelligent person doesn’t set out to win the conflict. His/her goal instead is to get opposing parties to a shared view. You can take negotiation classes that will teach you how to best the other person. That’s not what emotional intelligence conflict management is about.

It’s about bringing people together.

So, just how do we build up our EI and use it during a conflict?

Here are some behaviors of emotional intelligence that I want you to consider when you are faced with a conflict:

  • The emotionally intelligent person doesn’t react. Instead, he/she slows down and reflects before responding, carefully considering the pros and cons. What was their role in the conflict? Could there be another perspective? Also, they know that they need to take into account how the parties in a conflict view the situation—what their interests and motivations are.

  • Conflict is all about emotions and the emotionally intelligent person is in tune with what they are feeling and they are able to express those emotions constructively. It’s easy to bellow and pound the desktop. The emotionally intelligent person knows that if emotions aren’t constructively expressed, they will fester and come out in ways that can negatively impact performance.

  • The emotionally intelligent person is an expert brainstormer. They encourage people to bring ideas to the table for consideration—all the ideas. They know that an idea that seems outlandish at first could lead to something really impactful. They know that in many situations people just want to be heard. So, they encourage others to share what they want and need.

  • The emotionally intelligent person strives to see a situation from the other person’s perspective—putting themself in the other’s shoes. It ain’t easy—but the conscious attempt to understand another’s point of view can build new neural pathways, create real learning and reshape interactions. The emotionally intelligent person seeks first to understand, then to be understood.

  • The emotionally intelligent person listens to others—really listens. They listen empathetically, rather than just waiting for their turn to talk. And it’s not just words. The emotionally intelligent person is aware of the other person’s body language and tone. See: Understanding other perspectives through active listening.

Wrapping up

When faced with conflict, logic, and reason is important, but it’s not enough. We humans are emotional beings. Spending time building up your emotional intelligence will give you the ability to understand and manage your own emotions better—and in turn, you’ll relate to others more effectively and manage conflict more productively.

Did you like this post? Try 3 phrases you can use instead of lashing out in conflict

Want to learn more? Check out “The You Turn: from Conflict to Collaboration.” In this highly interactive, online leadership workshop, we leverage the Conflict Dynamics Profile® to provide insights and practical skills to transform conflict situations into opportunities for stronger, healthy relationships.

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