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Examples of Using Emotional Intelligence to Manage Conflict in the Workplace

written by: Amber Neely•edited by: Michele McDonough•updated: 4/21/2012

Emotional intelligence is the ability to manage your emotions to your advantage. This article explains why people react with emotion first and logic second, and gives three helpful examples of emotional intelligence being used to manage conflict in the workplace.

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    What is Emotional Intelligence?

    Emotional intelligence may be something you've heard of, but what is it? The phrase was coined by Peter Salovey and John Mayer in 1990. It describes the ability to handle your own feelings and empathize with the feelings of others to balance yourself well in the workplace.

    Your emotional intelligence is often defined by the way you can manage your emotions to better yourself in the workplace. This can include working well under stress and handling the relationships you create with co-workers, employers, and employees in a personal, yet professional manner. To be able to keep a level head and realize the emotional needs of both yourself and others is invaluable in the workplace.

    Credit: Emotional Intelligence: The EQ Factor - Time Magazine (October 1995)

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    Hardwired for Emotions

    Business man What are some examples of emotional intelligence?

    Say you're an employee who has begun work on a very important project. Your boss has been laying on the pressure, and you know that there are coworkers who are waiting to take over should you fail. This is a high stress situation, and you've got a few different options.

    Someone with low emotional intelligence is likely to buckle under the stress and lose the project. This is because humans are hardwired to react emotionally first before they react intelligently. These are things that we've done for millions of years as a form of survival. Sure, it isn't practical in this day and age when most people don't have to leap out of the way of a hungry mountain lion, but does this mean it is a terrible trait? Not at all!

    In the same situation, someone with high emotional intelligence will still react to a high-stress situation, but can recover quickly after they get their bearings. Not only will they be able to balance themselves out after the stress of the situation, but they can use the stress as a means of motivation.

    Image Credit: snedegar3

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    The Means of Emotional Intelligence

    Most of us, however, fall in the averages between low emotional intelligence and high emotional intelligence. Chances are, if faced with the same situation as above, a person of average emotional intelligence will likely react to the stress poorly much longer than they should with a slower recovery. By the time they recover, they find that the stress of a deadline or looming productivity goal forces them to rush through parts of the project.

    Everyone has rushed through a project or taken unnecessary shortcuts and felt like they could have done a better job. This is a natural reaction to a high stress situation. However, you can manage your emotional intelligence a bit better through practice. Let's take a look at a few scenarios where using emotional intelligence can help you manage conflict in the workplace.

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    Group Conflict

    Briefcase You've taken over a project that requires you to work in a small group of co-workers that you're placed in charge of. Co-worker A (we'll call him Jim) is worried that you'll ignore all his ideas in favor of Co-worker B's (we'll call him Adam) ideas. While this may seem like a very childish fear and ultimately could become an issue to the productivity of the group, do not write off Jim's fears. Has Adam had preference in projects over Jim in the past? Empathizing with Jim's fears can help you better manage any conflict that may arise between he and Adam. So, what can you do to manage this better?

    Preventative Measures: Give both Jim and Adam - as well as any other members in the group - time to voice their ideas, comments, and concerns. Remain attentive and ask questions, make insightful comments and offer suggestions. By being actively involved in the discussion, you can make everyone aware that their ideas and opinions matter, even if they may not be the ones you end up using.

    Damage Control: Jim's voiced his concerns, and now things have begun to heat up between he and Adam. Unfortunately, you find yourself siding with Adam's ideas rather than Jim's. What can you possibly do? For the immediate time, it's probably best to separate both Jim and Adam. Take Jim aside and ask him to calmly explain why he thinks his ideas are better than Adam's. Make sure you actively pay attention to what he is saying and see if he makes any valid points. If he does, see if there is a way you can incorporated some of Jim's ideas into the project. If you find that Jim's ideas simply don't work for your project, tell him. While he won't enjoy the sting of rejection, you need to be firm about what is best for this project. Encourage him to keep brainstorming on both this and future projects, though.

    Credit: Nathan Branch

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    Employee Relationships

    If you run or manage a business where you have a group of employees intermingling on a regular basis, you have to realistically come to expect that eventually some of them will begin to date. While you can (and should) discourage flirtatious behavior within the workplace, you cannot control what your employees do in their free time. How can you make sure that relationships don't get in the way of productivity in the workplace? Let's take a look at a familiar scenario for some ideas. Employee A (We'll call her Ann) and Employee B (We'll call him Craig) have been dating for almost a year when suddenly Craig ends their relationship. This leads to a lot of uncomfortable, tense feelings, and even occasional fighting. How can you manage this effectively?

    Preventative Measures: If at all possible, limit the amount of face time that Ann gets with Craig. If you've got the ability to assign them to separate projects, do so for a while. You need to be empathetic with both employees - no one handles breaking up especially well, and seeing your ex after a breakup is hard. Still, this is a workplace, and they need to remain productive.

    Damage Control: If things have begun to get too heated, you may need to remind Ann and Craig that the office is a place for work, not fighting. You need to have a firm hand and listen to any concerns they may voice about working with each other or seeing each other on daily basis. Then, using your best judgment, make the decision that best suits everyone.

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    Interfacing with Your Boss

    Interfacing with your boss might not be the minefield that sitcoms make it out to be, but that doesn't mean that it isn't a stressful situation. Whether you have the world's friendliest boss or the world's worst, you are forever aware that there is a chain of command, and you're lower on that chain. So what do you do?

    Easy. Keep a level head. If you're asking for a raise, walk in and state the reasons why you think you deserve an increase in pay. Same with asking for time off or time extensions on projects. Above all, you need to remember that your boss is a person too, and that they deserve respect. Take the time to empathize with your boss and realize that more often than not, he or she is not trying to be mean, but has a difficult job to do. If you do lose your cool for a moment, remember that you need to apologize, whatever the outcome.