Emotional Intelligence In Conflict: A Look At Development

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Picture this. Michael and John are team mates and have worked together for some time now. Unfortunately, they also have a long history of relationship conflict in the workplace, they never progressed past the “storming stage” of team development into the “norming stage” where the social hierarchy is established and accepted. Let’s say John takes a dig at Michael in front of their team mates, making Michael feel small.

Michaels brain decodes the verbal and non-verbal contents of the message and perceives it as a threat. His psychological safety and social standing are now at risk in his mind. Before Michael knows it, an automatic self-protection response cycle kicks off. His brain sends a message through the nervous system, instructing the glands (endocrine system) to dump hormones, prepping Michael for fight or flight. This response cycle is overwhelming and inhibits Michaels ability to think objectively and make rational decisions. He is now starting to generate a range of potential responses, many of which are most likely destructive. The conflict with  John escalates and things only get worse for everyone involved.

This scenario is not uncommon, and no one enjoys feeling this way, relationship conflict can be destructive and cause dysfunction when left unchecked. When things get that bad, managers must intervene to resolve the situation. Learning to manage ourselves and others in these circumstances is an art that some appear to be more natural at than others. People who seem to possess a natural ability to manage themselves and others in these situations are known to score high in the personality trait of Emotional Quotients (EQ). Others like myself who do not score high in EQ, must work hard to develop Emotional Intelligence (EI), which refers to a person’s cognitive abilities (thought processes) to manage such stressful situations. Unfortunately, many people have not been taught any constructive thought processes (EI).

Despite the difference between EI & EQ, we speak of them as one and the same, as they both determine “the ability to monitor one’s own and other’s feelings and emotions, to discriminate amongst them and use this information to guides ones thinking and actions”. 

Knowing the difference means we can start to target individual development strategies for ourselves. A compelling story about the benefits of developing EI in managers is beginning to emerge. Including but not limited too; Improvements in mental health, reduction in cortisol levels (stress hormones), increase in life satisfaction, increased organisational citizenship behaviours, improved trust between workers and managers, greater displays of pro-social behaviours and a general stabilising of the workplace to name a few, the list continues to grow.

Research into EI still has a long road ahead of it. Clear, formal training pathways to developing EI are still young, with a variety of approaches existing depending on who you talk to. That said, Social Psychologists are doing a great job at piecing together information from the existing research on how to develop EI. Let’s take a summarised look at the EI process now.

Developing EI requires a high level of honesty with yourself and others. You’ll need to be prepared to push yourself beyond your mental comfort zone, challenging your belief systems, natural response cycles and normal behaviours. All of which, have been developed over your lifetime, serving as a psychological safety system designed to protect your mental health. Empathy and trust are also required in this process.

Installing an emergency stop button, such as EI into that process is not easy. Self-monitoring and self-reflection can be exhausting, it takes sustained dedication over an extended period.

EI development can be broken down into three main steps

1.    Perceiving emotions in self and others

2.    Understanding the meaning of emotions

3.    Regulating emotions

When an activating event occurs, such as John taking a dig at Michael, The first step in the EI cycle is to perceive emotions both within yourself and the other person/s involved. This means that Michael needs to identify his own emotional state as well as reflecting on Johns emotional state and motivating factors. This is achieved by Michael making judgements on Johns verbal and non-verbal behaviours in the context of the situation and also considering third-party influence in the event at hand.

Step two involves understanding the meaning of the identified emotions. Therefore, Michael must analyse and label the emotions he has identified in step one. This can aid him in understanding where they come from and  how those emotions affect him and others. When events occur around you, combined with your current emotional state, your cognitive thought processes can be altered negatively or positively. People naturally link events and feelings to known experiences in order to make sense of a situation. This means a positive empathetic mood may elicit more positive associations and thought processes. Whereas negative moods may draw less favourable associations and thought processes. Acknowledging that moods can affect associations and thought processes, means you can begin to identify the best times and circumstances to make decisions, or when to wait, reflect or seek guidance in decision making.

The third step involves regulating emotions. Michael needed to begin by reflecting on the potential outcomes generated from both step one and two and assess how those responses and outcomes fit within his personal values and that of the organisations. Then deciding which outcome is desired and proceeding to manage his emotions, responses and that of Johns, in order to guide the situation towards the desired outcome.

In summary, developing EI is not a walk in the park, nor will it happen overnight. Sustained conscientious effort over a long period of time is what you’re in for, there’s no quick fix here. Organisations who not only understand EI, but also develop and deploy EI strategies in the workforce, tend to create more stable and consistent environments, benefiting both teams and managers thereby supporting organisational success. 

 

Business Binoculars is here to support your growth and success over the long term. For more in-depth look at EI call Paul at Business Binoculars to discuss how he can help you reach your best!

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