The stress and pace of working life in Singapore continues to increase every year. Conflicts between people in organisations are a natural outcome of these tensions.

In fact, they are a normal and necessary part of healthy relationships. After all, two people can’t be expected to agree on everything at all times. Therefore, learning how to deal with conflict — rather than avoiding it — is crucial.

In the Singaporean context, many managers find it difficult to understand and relate to their own feelings during a period of conflict.

Emotional awareness is the key to understanding yourself and others. If you don’t know how you feel or why you feel that way, you won’t be able to communicate effectively or smooth over disagreements.

Emotional awareness helps you to understand what is really troubling you and other people, enables you to stay motivated until the conflict is resolved and helps you communicate clearly and effectively.

Conflict arises from differences. It occurs whenever people disagree over their values, motivations, perceptions, ideas or desires.

Sometimes these differences look trivial, but when a conflict triggers strong feelings, a deep personal need is at the core of the problem, such as a need to feel safe and secure, a need to feel respected and valued, or a need for greater closeness.

Successful conflict resolution depends on your ability to regulate stress and your emotions. Conflict triggers strong emotions and can lead to hurt feelings, disappointment and discomfort.

If you are out of touch with your feelings or so stressed that you can only pay attention to a limited number of emotions, you won’t be able to understand your own needs. If you don’t understand your needs, you will have a hard time communicating with others and staying in touch with what is really troubling you.

Successfully resolving conflict depends on skilfully managing stress quickly, controlling your emotions and behaviour and paying attention to the feelings being expressed as well as the words.

Balance emotions

Managing and resolving conflict requires the ability to quickly reduce stress and bring your emotions into balance. You can ensure that the process is as positive as possible by sticking to the following conflict resolution guidelines:

Listen for what is felt as well as said: When you listen, you connect more deeply to your own needs and emotions, and to those of other people. Listening in this way also strengthens you, informs you, and makes it easier for others to hear you.

Resolution is the priority: Maintaining and strengthening the relationship rather than “winning” the argument should always be your first priority. Be respectful of the other person and his or her viewpoint.

Focus on the present: If you are holding on to old hurts and resentments, your ability to see the reality of the current situation will be impaired. Rather than looking to the past and assigning blame, focus on what you can do in the here-and-now to solve the problem.

Pick your battles: Conflicts can be draining, so it’s important to consider whether the issue is really worthy of your time and energy. Maybe you don’t want to surrender a parking space if you have been circling for 15 minutes. But if there are dozens of spots, arguing over a single space isn’t worth it.

Be willing to forgive: Resolving conflict is impossible if you are unwilling or unable to forgive. Resolution lies in releasing the urge to punish, which can never compensate for your losses, and only adds to your injury by further depleting and draining your life. 

Know when to let something go: If you can’t come to an agreement, agree to disagree. It takes two people to keep an argument going. If a conflict is going nowhere, you can choose to disengage and move on.

Article by Chris Fenney, co-founder and director of Training Edge International. He has more than 30 years’ experience in training and management development. For more information, e-mail chris.fenney@trainingedgeasia.com or visit www.trainingedgeasia.com