5 Ways Emotionally Intelligent People Handle Conflict

Workplace Conflict: An Inescapable Reality

It’s no surprise that conflict is a regular and unpleasant reality in many workplaces. When a group of employees from various backgrounds and with different work styles is brought together to achieve a shared business goal, tensions are inevitable. Competing priorities, stressful deadlines, heavy workloads, and poor communication can cause a minor misunderstanding to snowball into a full-out argument or simmering resentment.

A 2008 study by CPP, developers of the Myers-Briggs assessment, found that US employees spend 2.8 hours per week dealing with conflict, equating to approximately $359 billion annually in paid hours. According to another study by the University of North Carolina, HR managers spend 24 to 60 percent of their time dealing with employee disputes. Worse, 53% of employees said they spend time at work worrying about a past or future conflict with a coworker. How to reverse these troubling statistics? Managing conflict at work takes more than patience and good communication. It requires emotional intelligence.

The Relationship Between Emotional Intelligence and Conflict Management

Think of emotional intelligence as a toolkit - an internal resource to draw upon when conflict arises. According to emotional intelligence and negotiation expert Dan Shapiro, “The moment you feel threatened in a conflict, a whole set of emotional forces turn your conflict into an adversarial battle: It becomes you vs. them. Suddenly the problem feels nonnegotiable because you can’t imagine working things out with the other side.” In these moments, emotional intelligence may help transform a destructive argument into a productive learning opportunity. Individuals with high Emotional Intelligence Quotients (EIQs) have an easier time controlling their feelings, display greater self-awareness, and are able to take time to process their thoughts before reacting. These abilities are particularly useful in conflict management and resolution.

The 5 Ways Emotionally Intelligent People Handle Conflict

Consider these actions that individuals with high EIQs demonstrate the next time you find yourself in conflict:

  • They address issues privately. Responding to a frustrating coworker or situation in the moment (especially publicly) can cause lasting damage. Ask the other person if you can speak in private. If you need time to cool down before engaging in a dialogue, it’s completely acceptable to ask for it. Setting boundaries around conflict can preserve professional relationships. For example, consider the following responses:
    – “Let’s not engage in this sort of serious discussion over email.”
    – “Could we talk about this in person either later today or tomorrow morning?”
    – “Can we please talk about this privately after I take a few minutes to process everything?”
  • They ask questions. Asking open-ended questions is a useful technique for employees, managers, or mediators. Some examples of these questions are:
    – “So how did you feel when _____ happened?”
    – “Can you tell me a bit more about why you found the situation so frustrating?”
    – “What do you think the other person might have been feeling/thinking?”
    – “How do you think you could respond or change to resolve this issue and what would you like in return?”
    These questions encourage the parties involved to self-reflect and even arrive upon solutions on their own.
  • They listen. Emotionally intelligent people don’t merely listen to what the other person says, they also restate and clarify to make sure they accurately understood. The action involves saying something like, “So, what I hear you saying is that you were upset because it felt like the manager was taking credit for your idea during the meeting. Am I right?”
  • They pay attention to their words and tone. It’s important to use neutral language and a calm tone when talking about sensitive issues. Avoid accusations such as, “You’re always making me look bad in front of our boss! What’s wrong with you?” This phrasing sounds confrontational and makes the other person feel defensive. Changing the statement to make it about yourself instead of him/her demonstrates another way to change the tone of a conversation: “It makes me feel embarrassed to have errors in my work pointed out publicly, especially in front of our manager. Would you mind sharing that feedback with me privately next time?”
  • They find common ground. Ultimately, the biggest disagreements arise from passion. Most people feel strongly about their work or opinion, sometimes to the point where they’re unable to absorb a different perspective. Reminding yourself that you and your colleague share common goals may help neutralize a disagreement about the best way to achieve those goals.

To Conclude

There’s enough to worry about during the workday. Conflict — between and among coworkers, managers, and their direct reports, and even between and among larger groups or departments — takes time and energy away from achieving shared goals. Any steps you take to make your organization (and yourself) more empathetic and peaceful will bring major payoffs: happier employees, clearer communication, a more positive environment and, ultimately, greater organizational success.

What Really Motivates Employees

Employees that are engaged in their work are more productive, satisfied, and likely to stay with an employer motivating them to do their best.

Having a more engaged workforce is highly beneficial to companies and managers, positively impacting areas including workplace safety, employee health, and profitability. Consider the latest Gallup Employee Engagement study that reports that only 34% of employees are truly engaged at work. In fact, Gallup estimates that actively disengaged employees cost the US $450 billion to $550 billion in lost productivity per year.

The secret to engaging employees comes from a key aspect of motivational psychology: the difference between intrinsic and extrinsic motivation.

Extrinsic motivation comes from external sources (for example the promise of a reward or the threat of punishment). Intrinsic motivation, on the other hand, comes from within.

Intrinsically motivated employees genuinely desire to excel at their job and find their work rewarding on its own merit. Research finds that intrinsic motivation is a powerful driver of employee engagement.

So how can leaders and managers create an environment that intrinsically motivates employees?

Build a culture of respect

What would an intrinsically motivating environment look like?

It would have a workplace culture that is inclusive and respectful of the backgrounds and ideas of each individual. A 2016 SHRM study finds that respectful treatment of employees at all levels rates as very important by 67% of employees, making it the top contributor to overall employee job satisfaction. Nearly one half (49%) of employees in the same study indicate that their immediate supervisor’s respect for their ideas translates into job satisfaction. Employees who feel seen, valued, and listened to help spread a culture of respect and civility.

What else contributes to this positive workplace culture?

Make it meaningful

Employees are more motivated by meaningful work that gives them a sense of purpose than by strictly financial rewards. This is especially true among younger workers.

In fact, a 2014 study of 300 companies finds that 94% of Millennials want to use their skills to do good in the world, and 50% would take a pay cut if they find work that matches their values.

Leadership should talk with employees regarding the “why” behind their work. For example, ask, “What makes your company’s work important?” or “How does it positively contribute to the business world?” As part of the conversation, leaders should share stories demonstrating the positive impact their organization has on customers and the larger community.

Recognize excellence

Most people respond well to appreciation. Research finds that managers who positively recognize employees can boost employee engagement by up to 60%. Yet, 63% of employees report they don't get enough praise. Recognition does not need to be attached to a financial or tangible reward to increase motivation. In fact, 83% of employees say it’s better to give someone praise than a gift. Putting systems and traditions in place for workers to receive recognition from peers, managers, and leadership becomes an effective and easy way to motivate employees.

To wrap it up…

When thinking about employee motivation, take a cue from Whole Foods, a company that regularly tops the list of best companies to work for. Whole Foods’ former CEO John Mackey states, “If you are lucky enough to be someone’s employer, then you have a moral obligation to make sure people look forward to coming to work in the morning.”

Critical Thinking: An Essential Soft Skill in the Age of Apps and Automation

At the 2018 World Economic Forum, Jack Ma, founder of global e-commerce sensation Alibaba, said, “We cannot teach our kids to compete with the machines who are smarter – we have to teach our kids something unique.”

Indeed, an increasing concern for employers and employees alike is the efficiency and cost-effectiveness of apps and automation in a wide variety of fields from accounting to manufacturing to retail. A recent study by the McKinsey Global Institute estimates that soon an average of 15% of work activities across the globe could be displaced by automation.

What is critical thinking and why does it matter?

So what is this “something unique” we should be teaching our children – and employees? Many experts believe it’s critical thinking.

Problem-solving in the workplace can be complex, and decisions may have serious consequences. The foundation of effective problem solving is critical thinking: the ability to analyze information objectively, assess different perspectives, and reach a logical conclusion uninfluenced by emotion or personal bias. Essentially, workers need to be able to think creatively, solve problems in new and unexpected ways, communicate and collaborate effectively, and understand how to apply data to real-world situations.

The McKinsey study predicts, “Demand for higher cognitive skills such as creativity, critical thinking and decision-making, and complex information processing will grow through 2030, at cumulative double-digit rates.”

According to Professor Joseph Aoun, author of the book Robot Proof, “When I talk to employers, they tell me that they would give their right arm for more systems thinkers – quarterbacks who can see across disciplines and analyze them in an integrated way….be culturally agile, able to communicate across boundaries, and to think ethically.”

The state of critical thinking in the workplace

Although critical thinking skills are more in demand than ever, the workforce as a whole is significantly underprepared to take on high-level cognitive challenges.

A global study by MCAT reveals that 84% of managers believe their company suffered a financial loss due to a lack of critical thinking among employees. Other research finds that the higher up the ladder an employee is, the more important critical thinking becomes. A minor mistake by a low-level employee is easily fixed, but a CEO’s error in judgment could lead to disaster. And yet, 62% of respondents said their organization does nothing to recruit, hire, and train critical thinkers.

And so…

One important takeaway is that critical thinking can be taught and existing skills sharpened. However, 80% of those surveyed in the MCAT study were never offered training to improve their critical thinking skills.

Companies who invest in critical thinking development have an opportunity to ahead of the curve. Isn’t it time to give your employees this higher-level skill to help themselves – and your organization?

Soft Skills and Hard Skills: The Perfect Match

An essential software upgrade falls apart because your team fails to work together. Conflict arises and the blame game gets underway. You’ve given your your technical workers world-class coding training, so why aren’t they be better communicators and collaborators? In today’s economy, superior technical skills are not enough to ensure your organization’s success.

The critical importance of interpersonal skills, or “soft skills,” has become a much-discussed topic among academics and business leaders. Sociologists Philip Moss and Chris Tilly define soft skills as “skills, abilities, and traits that pertain to personality, attitudes and behavior rather than to formal or technical knowledge.” Communication, empathy, teamwork, creativity, flexibility, and listening are all essential competencies which employers need —and yet finding candidates and employees with these competencies is an ongoing challenge.

The Case for Soft Skills
A recent survey of over a decade of Google’s HR data concluded that STEM expertise is one of the least important qualities of Google’s top employees. The seven top characteristics of success are all soft skills: being a good coach; communicating and listening well; possessing insights into others (including others’ different values and points of view); having empathy toward and being supportive of one’s colleagues; being a good critical thinker and problem-solver; and being able to make connections across complex ideas. Other studies report similar trends: A recent report by iCIMS Hiring Insight  finds that 94% of recruiters believe an employee with stronger soft skills has a better chance of being promoted to a leadership position than an employee with more years of experience but weaker soft skills.

The Soft Skills Gap
According to a survey by Adecco Staffing, 92 percent of senior executives in the U.S. acknowledge there is a serious gap in workforce skills: 44 percent of respondents cited soft skills, such as communication, critical thinking, creativity, and collaboration, as the area with the biggest gap. In fact, only 22 percent cited a lack of technical skills as the culprit for the U.S. skills gap. In an interview with CNBC, LinkedIn CEO Jeff Weiner noted, “[I]nterpersonal skills is where we're seeing the biggest imbalance. Communications is the No. 1 skills gap across major cities in the United States.”

The Importance of Soft Skills Training
Organizations would be well served by developing soft skills among their new hires and current employees. There are a variety of ways to make soft skills a priority in the workplace, from making them part of performance assessments, to setting goals incorporating soft skills, to modeling the same skills in workplace interactions. In addition, online microlearning is a natural fit for employees motivated to improve their communication and other soft skills. According to the LinkedIn report mentioned earlier, “The modern employee wants to take time to learn when they’re in the office. They want opportunities to learn at their own pace and to access learning at the point of need.”

And So…
Many business leaders already know that who an employee is is just as important as what an employee can do. As former Porsche CEO Peter Schutz put it, “Hire character. Train skill.” Virgin Group founder Sir Richard Branson adds: “We look for people who are friendly and considerate, and who like working with others.” In the end, it’s not a competition between soft skills and hard skills, it’s about recognizing that an employee with both skill sets has greater potential, potential not even a robot could outmatch.