Understanding How Emotions Influence Conflict
Emotions can create conflict: strong emotions can create conflict because of internal “noise of inappropriate expression.
Emotions can escalate conflict: the longer a conflict exists, the more likely emotions will intensify and the more likely problem-solving skills will diminish.
Emotions can de-escalate conflict: in conflict situations where the relationship of the parties is valued, emotions may help to calm the conflict and lead toward effective problem solving.
Dealing with feelings can be difficult for adults and students alike. How often have you heard adults and young people say they are upset or mad? Those feeling words are like the options on a computer screen – under each is a full menu of more specific feelings.
Many people think it takes too long to acknowledge emotions. Educators may find themselves asking Student A what happened, asking Student B what happened, and then telling them both just to stop it. The chances for achieving a longer-lasting solution are increased when feelings are acknowledged by asking students to describe their perceptions of a conflict in terms of both facts and feelings.
Before most adults and youth can be comfortable talking about emotions they need to enrich their feeling vocabulary. To illustrate the importance of a richer feeling vocabulary it is helpful to think about the conflicts in your own life.
Think of the last time you told yourself or someone else that you were feeling upset. Obviously the listener knew that all was not well with you, but the information that would allow that person to respond to you with empathy and understanding was not communicated. Did “upset” mean that you weren’t feeling well or that you were angry, hurt, disappointed or frustrated?
Using vague descriptors can elicit unhelpful responses. Identifying your feelings accurately is the first step toward good communication and successful resolution of conflicts. Sometimes placing an accurate name on feelings is all you need to do to know the necessary next step. If you realize that you're not really angry but terribly disappointed, you may be willing to take a look at your expectations. If you can accurately describe t¢ a friend that your reaction to his/her behavior was hurt instead of anger, that friend might be mire able to make an appropriate response and work toward resolving the conflict.
The following steps for handling feelings might be helpful:
1.Name the emotion: Be specific about how you feel. Remember, if you describe your emotion as anger or even, upset and mad, delve deeper) for the underlying feeling. Ask yourself, "What, exactly, am I feeling? What's going on here?"
2. Claim the emotion: This is My feeling. No one made
one feel this way. How I am feeling is
response (anger, sadness, etc.) to this conflict situation. My feeling may or may not be an appropriate response in this situation, but I acknowledge that it is still mine. Statements to yourself might include, "This is my feeling ‑ no one made me feel this way." For some who have developed the habit of dealing with emotions cerebrally, there is an additional step of allowing myself actually to feel the emotion.
3. Tame the emotion: If you are uncomfortable with the intensity of your feelings, engage in mental or physical activities that reduce them. Techniques include going on a mental vacation to a serene place, taking deep breaths, counting to 10 slowly or taking a walk. The important thing is to calm down and not react. You should also resist impulses to strike back, give in, or walk out.
4. Reframe the emotion: Is this the first time that I have felt this way? What are the specific factors of this conflict? Is there a history of previous conflicts with this individual or with an individual in a similar role or position that intensifies my present feelings? Can I reframe my present feelings in such a way that they become helpful in resolving the current conflict? Is it appropriate for me to reframe my feelings in this situation?
5. Aim the emotion: What am I going to do with my feelings? Will I talk this out with someone? Do I need to understand my part in the conflict? Will I ask the other party to work with me to resolve it? Will I decide to do something differently next time? All of these are ways of aiming.
Organizations such as Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) are effective because individuals have turned their feelings of anger and sadness into a motivating force toward positive action.
Communicating Emotions Appropriately
"Conflict and enmity are often the result of anger expressed; depression and fatigue are frequently the bitter fruit of anger denied."
‑‑James D. Whitehead
Anger is the usual word used to describe feelings in conflict situations. As a result anger has been termed the "masked emotion" or "second emotion" because it hides the first or underlying emotions of hurt, fear, rejection, frustration, humiliation, or loneliness. Asking, "If you weren't feeling angry what would you be feeling?" can often lead to a better understanding of what is at the root of the conflict.
Emotions produce energy. In order to resolve conflicts, people need to find ways that are effective for them to channel that energy so that it produces insight into the conflict as well. For many the insight comes after physical exercise, venting, making journal entries, talking to a friend or trying to see the conflict from the point of view of the other.