Resolving conflict – start by managing your own stress

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Complex work environments give rise to a broad range of handicapping emotions: frustration, overwhelm, worry, blame to name a few. These emotions can trigger a stress reaction which activates adrenalin and cortisol, causing a physical reaction which can then impact our behavior. When conflicts emerge, start by making sure you are managing your own stress. By being the “calm in the storm” you can focus the conversation on solving the problem, not on the emotion the problem has created.

So how can you manage your stress and avoid getting worked up by a stress reaction? Understanding the way stress works and how that stress reaction sets in is a great first step. Our thoughts and how we react to them is one of the primary triggers to the stress reaction. When we get caught up in negative thinking patterns, we set the cycle on repeat and reinforce the triggers to stress again and again.

But it’s possible to disrupt negative thinking patterns. Learn to recognize the patterns when they are present. Generally, these patterns come into play when we have blinders to different view points and are only focused on a single point. All or nothing. Predicting a negative outcome in the future. Assuming we know what other people are thinking or feeling or doing. Playing the blame game. These patterns can all be disrupted by taking a moment to think about the alternative view points. Simply recognize that there is not one, unique, negative way to think about things and move on to other alternatives.

Speculation is one of the most dangerous things we do. You know the word play for ASS/U/ME, right? That’s what speculation does. It puts us in a position where we assume we know what’s going on, instead of proactively working to ensure we find out for sure. Stop assuming and use some of that engaged listening we talked about in the blog on communication. Ask questions and get clarification.

Strong emotions can cloud our judgement. But that doesn’t mean we should ignore our feelings, or discount their importance. On the contrary, our emotions are trying to tell us something. Maybe we should listen. BUT, we shouldn’t listen and take what we hear at face value. Fear for example tells us we should flee or fight. But what if we have made incorrect assumptions about the threat? What if there are alternatives that our emotions aren’t offering up automatically?

So, don’t ignore negative emotions. Decode them. Identify what emotion you are feeling and listen to what the emotion is trying to tell you. Be subjective – look at how negative thinking patterns and speculation are impacting the situation. Decide on the action you want to take. When you go through this process, not only do you waken subconscious messages to weigh in objectively, but you also take your brain out of the amygdala (the reptile brain which only knows how to fight, freeze or flee) back into the decision-making areas of your brain.

In the heat of the moment, if you feel the stress reaction setting in – take in a deep breath. And then another. Focus for a moment on your breathing, on reigning back in your body so it doesn’t take control of your behavior. If you’re really worked up, it’s going to be hard to calm down and refocus the conversation. So – you first. Channel your emotions so you can become the calm in the storm. My next blog will bring all the skills together with 8 tips for resolving conflict.