Leaders must be able to manage conflict on their teams. In other words, they must support people in disagreeing (which they inevitably will), and then support them in reaching a decision that will allow the team to move forward, together.
The most important part of doing this well is the skillful navigation of feelings and emotions, which is a part of conflict management that we rarely consider.
A good place to start when supporting an individual in working with their emotions is to source empathy. Empathy isn’t just our ability to imagine what it would be like to be in that person’s shoes. It also includes compassion, or the desire to support another person.
This doesn’t mean “fixing” anything for them, but rather providing a safe environment where the person can be who they are in that moment. They may be angry, frustrated, scared, nervous, agitated, or any myriad of feelings that they may be experiencing at the time.
What we often forget when someone is experiencing a strong emotion is that we don’t need to make it go away for them; emotions move along of their own accord when we let them be.
And actually when we fight against them and don’t allow them room to breathe, we become more identified with them and try to resist that discomfort, which only makes it worse.
Next, breathe. Support this person to take several deep breaths before speaking about their experience. This not only slows down the experience, but also creates a literal shift in physiology. With strong emotional reactions, our breathing becomes shorter and we begin to go into a fight-or-flight response, which means we don’t have access to our best reasoning or brainpower.
Finally, ask open-ended questions. This will allow them to gain perspective of their emotional experience, so that they can see that things are not as black and white as they seem. Open-ended questions like, “What happened?” and “What were you trying to accomplish or do at that moment?” and “Is there anything you would do differently now?” are all helpful in gaining perspective.