How we Respond to Conflict: Thoughts, Feelings, and Physical Responses 1
In addition to the behavioral responses summarized by the various conflict styles, we have emotional, cognitive and physical responses to conflict. These are important windows into our experience during conflict, for they frequently tell us more about what is the true source of threat that we perceive; by understanding our thoughts, feelings and physical responses to conflict, we may get better insights into the best potential solutions to the situation.
- Emotional responses: These are the feelings we experience in conflict, ranging from anger and fear to despair and confusion. Emotional responses are often misunderstood, as people tend to believe that others feel the same as they do. Thus, differing emotional responses are confusing and, at times, threatening.
- Cognitive responses: These are our ideas and thoughts about a conflict, often present as inner voices or internal observers in the midst of a situation. Through sub-vocalization (i.e., self-talk), we come to understand these cognitive responses. For example, we might think any of the following things in response to another person taking a parking spot just as we are ready to park:
"That jerk! Who does he think he is! What a sense of entitlement!"
"I wonder if he realizes what he has done. He seems lost in his own thoughts. I hope he is okay."
"What am I supposed to do? Now I'm going to be late for my meeting… Should I say something to him? What if he gets mad at me?"
Such differing cognitive responses contribute to emotional and behavioral responses, where self-talk can either promote a positive or negative feedback loop in the situation.
- Physical responses: These responses can play an important role in our ability to meet our needs in the conflict. They include heightened stress, bodily tension, increased perspiration, tunnel vision, shallow or accelerated breathing, nausea, and rapid heartbeat. These responses are similar to those we experience in high-anxiety situations, and they may be managed through stress management techniques. Establishing a calmer environment in which emotions can be managed is more likely if the physical response is addressed effectively.
|1 Adapted from Harry Webne-Behrman, The Practice of Facilitation: Managing Group Process and Solving Problems, Quorum Books, Greenwood Publishing, 1998, by permission of the author. All rights reserved.
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