5 Tips on Managing Conflict, Emotional Tension & Anger

How to Manage Conflict, Emotional Tension & Anger

Conflicts and emotional tension are part of everyday life. From reckless drivers who cut in front of you to unreliable service providers and the occasional bickering with your significant other, life is full of these unpleasant moments that can quickly mess up your ‘zen.’

And although we tend to get past such events quickly, unresolved conflicts and tensions can quickly come back to bite you. The frustration and resentment that you experience after losing a heated argument can make you angry towards the other person. The tension that builds up within your mind – as a result of unexpressed emotions and unresolved conflicts – can turn into stress, feelings of hopelessness, or even anger.

And the worst part is that your body might end up suffering as well. In other words, the emotional tensions and conflicts that we fail to manage can leave their mark in the form of physical conditions like migraines, insomnia, or exhaustion.

The hidden dangers of unresolved tensions

As we mentioned before, unresolved conflicts (both at home and work) can create a tense atmosphere. The frustration, anger, and resentment that we experience every time we get into a conflict can leave serious marks on our overall sense of well-being.

Aside from the fact that, in general, it’s unwise and unhealthy to annoy ourselves or others, emotions like anger can also have a negative impact on our physical health.

There is a strong link between our emotional reactions and how our body responds to them. For example, anger can lead to high blood pressure and in the long run, it can also contribute to gastritis and stomach ulcer.

In fact, fear and anger are two of the most damaging emotions, for both the body and the mind. And the worst part is that we often fail to ‘vent’ these emotions in a healthy way. Instead, we choose to ‘unleash’ them upon others causing tensions and conflicts that generate even more fear and anger.

Conflict resolution: Cultivating peace in the middle of the storm

Since it’s impossible to avoid conflicts and tensions, the only rational solution is to develop the skills to manage them properly. And that’s something we learn even from an early age.

For example, a recent study revealed that adolescents who employ conflict resolution tend to focus on the problem, rather than the unpleasant emotions associated with interpersonal tensions. In other words, they set aside anger and hostility, and opt for healthier coping strategies.

Conflict resolution or conflict management refers to a set of skills and strategies that help us ‘defuse’ a tense or stressful situation and find solutions that benefit both parties.

You can use this approach to manage conflicts both at home and at work. Instead of being carried away by anger and frustration, conflict resolution allows you to listen, understand, and find common ground.

Experts believe emotions – more specifically emotion regulation – plays a crucial role in conflict resolution. In other words, the way in which we manage our feelings (and others’) can make the difference between unresolved tensions and conflict resolution.

So, in a way, conflict resolution is about getting a handle on your emotions as well as creating an atmosphere where the other person doesn’t feel threatened, humiliated, or disrespected.

Let’s take a closer look at how you can use conflict resolution to mitigate a heated dispute successfully.

Five tips to ‘defuse’ conflicts and tensions:

#1 Avoid getting tangled up in the dispute

When we find ourselves in a heated dispute, it’s hard not to get caught up in negative emotions, especially when the other person resorts to destructive criticism and personal insults.

One insult after another and soon enough we find ourselves in a heated exchange of hurtful words that have nothing to do with the initial topic of conversation.

So, the first step in managing conflict is managing your own reactions. In other words, you need to keep your cool, ignore any criticism or insults that have nothing to do with the conversation and remain focused strictly on the content of the dispute, instead of the emotional turmoil that “hijacked” the conversation.

#2 Zero-in on the source of the problem

Now that you are past criticism and unnecessary insults, it’s time to identify the cause of the problem.

  • What exactly bothers the other person?
  • What are his/her concerns?
  • Why is he/she angry and upset?

In a way, conflict resolution is like problem-solving. To be more specific, you need to get to the bottom of the problem before you can negotiate a favourable solution.

#3 Practice empathic listening

In broad terms, empathy is the ability to recognise and share someone’s emotions. As you can imagine, this ability allows us to gain a better understanding of the people with whom we interact and forge strong interpersonal bonds.

When you find yourself in a heated argument or tensed conflict, empathic listening is what will help you get to the bottom of the problem. By listening to understand – not just to have something to say when it’s your turn to speak – you will be able to change the entire tone of the conversation.

In most cases, tension and conflict are not caused by the problem itself, but by how people resonate on an emotional level. Make them feel understood so that they can focus on solutions rather than insults.

#4 Suggest potential solutions

Now that you’ve de-tensed the situation and identified the problem, it’s time to search for answers. Invite the other party to brainstorm possible solutions to the problem. Write them down on a fresh piece of paper and see if you can find one that benefits both sides.

This is the part where you will need to negotiate in other to find common grounds. It’s also the part where tensions may arise once again. Make sure you don’t get caught up in futile arguments. Instead, steer the conversation toward your list of potential solutions.

#5 Focus on a win-win outcome

In the end, conflict resolution is about creating a win-win situation. It’s about reaching a solution that benefits both parties. It’s about putting aside emotions and choosing the path of reason and understanding.

As you can imagine, both sides need to voice out their preferences and make compromises at the same time.

It will take time, and it will take effort, but it the end, it’s the only viable approach to solving a tense situation and avoiding ‘hard’ feelings.

About the editor, Dr Malcolm Winstanley-Cross

I am a Registered Psychologist with AHPRA’s Psychology Board of Australia and a Chartered Counselling Psychologist with the British Psychological Society, UK. My formal training began with a B.A. in Psychology and Welfare at Charles Sturt University, and B.A. (Hons) Psychology from the University of Wollongong. I then progressed to the M.A. (Hons) Clinical Psychology at the same university before moving to the UK to undertake a PhD in Psychology from City, University of London.

Find out more about Dr Malcolm Winstanley-Cross

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