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Deal with the emotion behind conflict

Emotion, especially anger, is always present in times of conflict. It is important to recognise that anger may be appropriate. If people are not allowed to express their anger or it isn't taken seriously, they will tend to bottle it up, making the problem worse. The first step in any conflict is to acknowledge the emotions in the situation, because:

It opens up communication

Once the emotional charge has been reduced, a more objective discussion of issues can take place. People are less inclined to judge each other if their feelings are acknowledged and valued. For example "We all have some difficulty in accepting that we need to cut costs. Let's see how we can work through it."

It depersonalises the conflict

If someone is highly emotional, they are too 'churned up' internally to talk rationally and calmly about the issue. As a consequence they are unlikely to be able to participate objectively and empathise with the other person.

Dealing with feelings before facts helps you let go of internal conflict and encourages the other person to express the issue to allow more rational discussion.

To deal with feelings:

  • Listen for emotion.
  • Look for verbal and non verbal clues.
  • Tell the other person what you understand their emotions to be.
  • Stay with what you observe until there has been a clear change.
  • Apologise if necessary.

In order to deal effectively with the feelings involved in a conflict it is also important to accept your own emotions and find appropriate ways of expressing them, as well as to find a way to handle difficult emotions in others. This may be hard to do, in a way that doesn't disregard the other person, especially with emotions like:

Anger: If anger is expressed appropriately it is a way of letting others know that their behaviour is unacceptable to you and a catalyst for change. To express anger constructively look for the hurt that is usually underneath the anger and talk about this.

Resentment: Resentment is unexpressed anger. It blames others for the way you are feeling. Again, try to communicate the hurt and anger that the resentment is covering up.

Hurt: Hurt often leads to anger, whether you express it or harbour it as resentment. It tells you that your needs are not being met, or that your self- esteem has been wounded. If you can communicate your hurt without resentment it can deepen relationships.

Fear: Fear warns you that you need to proceed with caution. Seek help, get more information and separate fantasy from truth. Remember - people can get as worked up about imagined causes as real ones!

Guilt: : Guilt results when you act or feel differently to what you expected of yourself. It indicates that there is a better way you could respond than the way you did.

Regret: : Regret can encompass pain and sorrow, but tends to be more distant and removed than anger, resentment and so on. It acknowledges the unfilled potential of a situation. It is often the last emotion you feel before you finally accept or become resigned to a situation.

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