Two corporate professionals pictured. Both visually distressed, the image is intended to set the scene for the topic of this course - difficult conversations and how to have them.
Emotional Intelligence Leadership Management Uncategorized

How well do you use your emotions to manage conflict?

“If you only have a hammer, everything looks like a nail.” – Maslow

This age old analogy might seem a little off the topic of emotional intelligence but what Abraham Maslow was essentially saying is that we can have an overreliance on a familiar tool. And the same can be said for emotional responses and how we handle stress, change and conflict at work.

We have all probably had a colleague who in response to suggestions or feedback is immediately defensive. It’s likely you are the nail (feedback) and all they have is a hammer (their defensive response).

Improving your emotional intelligence (EQ) is one way of building the range of tools you have with you each day to deal with a difference of opinion with a colleague, to effectively raise a concern with your boss, or a to resolve an issue with a dissatisfied client.

Using emotional intelligence means that, rather than responding to every situation the same way, you are able to shape your response and have an insight into the emotions of the people you are interacting with as well as understanding your own emotions.

Some say EQ can be seen as a research tool, which enables you to gather the information you need to make informed decisions about people[1]. However you describe it, the relationship between EQ and conflict resolution is significant and its importance is even said to be over and above the impact of personality[2].

In a study of project managers[3] those with a higher EQ were found to be more likely to resolve conflict effectively, through applying more collaborative approaches to conflict resolution. It goes without saying that front line staff, such as those working in customer service, project management and human resources deal with many and varied people each and every day, and workplace conflicts can often be unavoidable.

The Harvard Business Review[4] sets out a few simple steps that you can consider to help you better handle conflict better.

The first step is to recognise the emotions that are at work.  Going back to the defensive colleague we spoke about earlier – How do you feel about this situation? Maybe as a result of their performance you were on the receiving end of negative feedback from a client and you are particularly annoyed? Perspective is also important, for example is your colleague feeling insecure and threatened in their job?

Secondly, consider what is the impact of these emotions? Has your frustration resulted in you having a shorter fuse than normal and how is this influencing your behaviour?

Understanding is the next step in approaching the situation, why are these emotions present? Have there been changes in the workplace that have added to your colleague’s insecurity, are they not feeling valued? And, why are you feeling so frustrated? Maybe this issue has been going on for some time and the current conflict is the so called ‘straw that broke the camel’s back’?

Lastly, all of this information enables you to shape your response, and provide feedback in a way that can lessen the negative emotional response. EQ is a lot about being able to manage negative emotions and enhance positive ones.  And both have a place in managing conflict.

So next time you’re handling a difficult client or about to provide some feedback to a colleague, if you have the time, take a few minutes to consider what emotions are at play and how you can use this range of information to respond to the situation.  After all, not everything is a nail.

Interested to know how Emotionally Intelligent you are? Future Institute has a EQ assessment tool contact us to access yours today.


[1] Perry, P., 2001, Get Emotional About It, Research Technology Management, 44(2)

[2] Godse, A., & Thingujam, N., Perceived Emotional Intelligence and Conflict Resolution Styles among Information Technology Professionals: Testing the Mediating Role of PersonalitySingapore Management Review, 32(1), p.69

[3] Davis, S., 2011, Investigating the Impact of Project Managers’ Emotional Intelligence on Their Interpersonal Competence, Project Management Journal, 42(4), p.37–57

[4] David, S., 2014, Manage a difficult conversation with emotional intelligence, Harvard Business Review,