The Good and Bad of Sharing Emotions in Work Conflicts

We all have a work conflict at one point or another. And often heated debates are the way to boost productivity. Often, the feelings we experience can be too much: anger, frustration, surprise, fear, sadness, disgust, shame, and anticipation. Yet, sharing how you feel in a work conflict may not be the best strategy.

The Good and Bad of Sharing Emotions in Work Conflicts

After all, what is it that you stand to gain? Especially when you’re spurred, irritated, resentful even. And think about it this way. It’s not like anyone ever heard anything good coming out of gritted teeth. On the other hand, leaving things unsaid might burden you. Sometimes sharing what’s on your heart is precisely what solves a work conflict. In fact, it may even be your way out. The issue remains, how to navigate this acrimonious sea.

 The benefits of sharing how you feel

Sharing emotions in a conflict may end that conflict. Explaining to someone that you are upset and how you feel about it might bring them over to your side. Yet, that is very hard to achieve.

Conflicts make empathy hard, and empathy can end any work conflict. The issue, however, is what you get to share. And, most often than not, you risk sharing the bad things. To list, anger, frustration, surprise, fear, sadness, disgust.

It is rare that we feel comfortable with being vulnerable in a conflict. However, many organizations explore conflict management, at best. Only a handful might explore the benefits of riding the wave of conflict. We do live in a world in which many people are raised to be conflict-averse.

However, research shows that developing conflict-cooperative relations and the skills to discuss diverse views open-mindedly makes a difference. In fact, by developing the kind of environment in which employees can use conflict to probe problems, organizations can boost innovation. They can use conflict-based experiences to explore and share experiences.

Most of all, conflict can be beneficial to organizations. Particularly alongside emotional management. We already know the benefits of managing emotions at work.

So, perhaps the best time to share work conflict emotions is right after the work conflict ends. By that time, you should be calm enough to do so. When you are calm, you are more capable of emotional insights. You can understand what makes you feel a certain way, and why.

Moreover, you can take apart the work conflict, and understand it better. In effect, you can see which emotions did what. Hence, you can better evaluate your hierarchy of personal memories of emotional experiences. And, with some patience, you can “re-script” your emotional cues.

The downside of sharing your feelings

We all have scripts about emotions. Feelings are not as naturalistic as we’d expect. Sure, things happening around us make us feel specific emotions. However, there is a sidestep, often ignored.

When we feel something, we feel it as related to a context. Previous experiences “script” our emotional reactions. Sure, some very basic emotions are, in their own right, reactions. Rapid onset, short duration, automatic appraisal, if we are to believe Ekman. Yet, many emotions are “scripted” events: they happen because of the context.

Almost as if we prepare for conflict with a long list of negatives. To clarify, basic emotions are spontaneous reactions. Complex emotions, however, are scripted compositions. That’s what the theory says.

And what you feel in a conflict is a mix of the two. First of all, you have direct, near-physical reactions to conflict. Call it fight-or-flight if you will. At the same time, you have a rainbow of complex feelings. And while we are all different, conflicts make us respond in a very limited range. There is a lot of debate about the role of emotions. Yet, one thing is sure. Emotions can drive people to do the irrational, the unthinkable, the unreasonable.

The worst part of sharing emotions during a conflict is that you lack control. Not having control means that you might pour gas over the fire. Moreover, you might alienate your audience. Instead of dealing with the work conflict, you risk expanding it.

Furthermore, emotions cloud your judgement when it comes to risks. For example, evaluating risks while angry makes you more optimistic. Meanwhile, evaluating risks while fearful makes you pessimistic. This study goes further to establish a judgement-emotion connection. Hence, the bad of sharing your emotions in conflict is that you can’t be smart about it.

How to deal with how you feel in work conflicts

If you can’t deal with what you feel, save it for later. However, it may be the case that later is not an option. Meanwhile, having a heated argument does not leave much room for introspection. So what is there to do? Here’s a quick plan.

Once you understand that there are two sides to any work conflict, you are free. This is very simple to apply. If you are feeling a certain away about certain things, so is your conflict-partner. This means that both of you lack 100% smart decision-making. Moreover, both of you experience hesitation, frustration, anticipation. The list could go on. Consider this a first step to empathy.

Even when you feel emotionally charged, you can still benefit from a work conflict. Competitive debaters, for example, undergo training that allows them to thrive on heated arguments. Instead of allowing emotions to impede logic and smart thinking, debaters use them to fuel improved discourse and argument construction.

Besides, more and more organizations should consider heated debates. This can be one of the best cure against boring meetings. Other than smart meetings, of course. And also an amazing tool in any work conflict. Now, you have both parties skillfully using well-thought arguments.

The emotional preemptives of work conflicts

Here are several ways you can prepare for the emotional side of a work conflict:

  • Keep an emotional journal. This should help you understand how you feel and why. We often forget why we felt the way we felt. Taking some notes should help keep emotions in check.
  • Meditate. Meditation is, above all, a way to cultivate self-control. There are many other benefits, clearly. Most of all, self-control is a huge gain when it comes to emotional management.
  • Contemplate. Quite similar to meditation, except that what you do is sit and think. Set your devices aside and let your random thoughts ensue. It’s a great opportunity for introspection. It’s when we talk to ourselves that we settle how we feel.
  • Show compassion. Some people manage their emotions better than others. Yet, this is something we can improve on. Try and give everyone some room for future improvement. To do that, be forgiving.

In time, you should get more experience with managing emotions in a work conflict. If you want to better manage your emotions in the workplace, I recommend you this article.

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