Human communication may at times lead to conflict which is both natural and expected. The ability to successfully resolve it is an essential skill that comes with many benefits including better mental health, an increased sense of self-efficacy or the belief in one’s capacity to complete a specific task successfully, improved communication and deeper connections within relationships – both personal and professional.
Research has consistently shown a strong link between conflict resolution and emotional intelligence, with highly emotionally intelligent individuals preferring to seek collaborative solutions (Winardi, Prentice, & Weaven, 2021). Emotional intelligence refers to the ability to recognise one’s own emotions and those of others and use this emotional information to communicate effectively and develop healthy relationships. To better understand the relationship between emotional intelligence and conflict resolution, Goleman’s four building blocks for emotional intelligence (i.e., self-awareness, self-regulation, social awareness, and relationship management) will be considered, highlighting how these can be used at the service of conflict resolution:
This is the ability to see and recognise our thoughts, beliefs, emotions, and behavioural patterns as they arise, as well as understand the impact of our behaviour on others. Self-awareness helps us to acknowledge a presenting challenge, stay calm and focused during conflict situations – thus engaging the ‘thinking parts’ of our brain, and consider constructive solutions to the problem. Self-awareness is a skill that can be developed through various practices such as mindfulness, self-reflection (e.g., reflecting on what triggers strong reactions to help us understand the underlying reasons for that reaction), journaling and asking for feedback from others.
This refers to the ability to control our emotions and behaviours and depends on our self-awareness. This is because we first need to be aware of our emotions and behaviours before we can regulate them. When we can self-regulate, we keep our emotions in check, allowing us to think before we act rather than act impulsively. For instance, if you notice your anger rising during a heated discussion, it may be most helpful to take time out and disengage from the conflict until having regained composure before responding.
This the ability to stay aware of the social information and signals being conveyed to us by others, including their emotions, spoken words, and body language. It also entails being empathetic, which would include identifying what it might be like to be in the other person’s situation. For example, during a work meeting, a person high on emotional intelligence would talk and share their viewpoints with their colleagues; however, they would also observe their colleagues’ responses and show an interest in what others think and feel by, for example, asking follow-up questions.
It entails being able to form and maintain stronger connections with others and manage conflict and relies on the three areas mentioned above. Highly emotionally intelligent people are more concerned about maintaining and strengthening their relationship rather than winning the argument. Strategies for relationship management may include avoiding disrespectful words and actions, being willing to accept feedback, and focusing on reaching a solution that everyone can accept rather than getting caught up in deciding who is right or wrong.
Improving emotional intelligence is a lifelong journey which takes time, energy, patience, and commitment to develop. Although we may not always be able to negotiate our way through every conflict, by continually working on enhancing our emotional intelligence, we can improve our conflict resolution skills, relationships, and overall well-being.
If you think that you can benefit from professional support on this issue you can reach out here.
Dr. Ronald Zammit holds a Doctorate in Clinical Psychology from the University of Southampton, has completed Master’s level psychotherapy training in Cognitive Behavioural Therapy at the New Buckinghamshire University in the UK, as well as received training in Dialectical Behaviour Therapy (DBT). He has a special interest in mood and anxiety disorders, post-traumatic stress disorder and other trauma-related difficulties, personality disorders, and compassion-based approaches to treating difficulties related to high self-criticism and shame.
Goleman, D. (1995). Emotional intelligence. Bantam Books, Inc.
Winardi, M.A., Prentice, C. & Weaven, S. (2021). Systematic literature review on emotional intelligence and conflict management. Journal of Global Scholars of Marketing Science, DOI: 10.1080/21639159.2020.1808847