Managing your emotions

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Conflict can involve powerful negative emotions and can cause people to engage in negative behaviour that escalates conflict and damages relationships.

It is extremely important that when you find yourself in a conflict situation, that you can recognise how you are feeling and take steps to regulate your emotions to remain in control. In fact, studies have shown that people who are better able to regulate their emotions are also better at resolving conflict.

Fight or flight

The fight or flight response, also known as the acute stress response, is our body’s primitive response to danger or stress. Whenever we perceive there to be a harmful event, our body releases a whole bunch of hormones that get us ready to either fight or flee the threat. This causes a number of symptoms, including increased heart rate, dry mouth, shaking, flushed face, and sweating. And once triggered, it can take between 20-60 minutes for your body to return to a calm state.

Even though a situation of conflict may not present immediate danger, for a lot of people, it still triggers the fight or flight response. When this response is triggered, you may find it difficult to think clearly and act rationally - both of which are required to effectively manage a conflict situation.

To help calm yourself down:

  • Acknowledge how you are feeling - The first step is to acknowledge to yourself that you are in a heightened emotional state. It snaps you out of acting on autopilot and puts you back in control. The feelings won't subside, but at least you can take steps to calm yourself down.
  • Breathe - In this state you will naturally take shorter, faster breaths which can make you more anxious. Focus on your breathing and take slow deep breaths. Breathing with purpose has been shown to help regulate emotions and stress.
  • Take time out - If you find that you just can't continue, take some time to cool off.

Emotional triggers

Everyone has things that will trigger an emotional response. The problem with emotional triggers is that if someone hits your trigger, an emotional response will follow almost instantaneously, often without you even being conscious of it.

If this happens it is very easy to lose your cool before you realise it’s happened. However, if you know your triggers, you are conscious of when they have been/are being pressed. It may not stop you from feeling the emotions, but it certainly puts you in a much better position to control your reactions.

Things that may trigger an emotional response may include:

  • Blame or excuses
  • Negative talk (e.g. "It can't be done")
  • Criticism of your work
  • Criticism of you as a person
  • Hostile or aggressive behaviour (e.g. sarcasm, back chat, yelling).

Know when to engage and when to avoid

Before dealing with a conflict it is important to reflect on your current emotional state and assess whether you are in a state to be able to handle your emotions properly. Think to yourself "How would I react if someone pressed a trigger right now?".

If you are already in a heightened emotional state (e.g. anxious, angry, frustrated) it's going to take a lot less for you to lose control of your emotions. You might even get into an argument just to vent your anger.

Evaluating your emotional state can help you decide whether you are able to deal with the conflict now, or whether it's best for you to deal with it later.

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Next: Conflict Management - Being assertive