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5 Ways to Address Emotions in Conflict

Emotions are a fundamental part of conflict. We have all experienced conflict that has caused us to feel offended, disappointed or distressed. Having an understanding of the emotional responses that may come up during a dispute can help manage conflict. According to the Conflict Research Consortium at the University of Colorado, “people in conflict may have a variety of strong emotions--anger, distrust, disappointment, frustration, confusion, worry, or fear. These emotions often mask the substantive issues in dispute” (C., 1998). However, the emotions that we feel are real, and if left unacknowledged, they can damage relationships and lead to future conflict.

There are many practices available to aid in managing emotions. Here, we discuss 5 ways to address emotions when in conflict. These approaches are beneficial in conflict resolution because they encourage parties to gain a better understanding of the importance of relationships in resolving conflict.

1) Identify and try to understand your emotions, as well as the emotions of those involved in the conflict. Do you feel angry, or just anxious about the conflict? Is the other person confused about the nature of the conflict, or are the issues clear and understood? Identifying emotions allows you to separate your feelings and the feelings of the other person the issues present in the conflict. Understanding emotions helps you separate the “people” from the “problem” so you can focus on the issues and start to determine your options.

2) Try to uncover the source of these emotions. Sometimes our emotional responses to a situation are altered and influenced by our past experiences. Prior conflicts, personal biases and desired outcomes can all manipulate our feelings and can influence the way we view conflict. These can become blocks or filters that interfere with communication.

3) Acknowledge and address emotions directly. By expressing and addressing both parties’ emotions, in a non-confrontational way, you gain a better understanding of the other person’s position, and allow yourself the opportunity to express your emotional standpoint on the situation. The idea is to avoid placing blame, as this can lead to defensiveness or hostility in response.

4) Recognize the other person’s feelings are real. While you do not have to agree with the other person, everyone has their own perceptions and feelings. It is important to remember that “your opponents' feelings are real, and denying their existence or validity is just likely to intensify those feelings” (C., 1998). Addressing and acknowledging feelings in conflict, offers acceptance and perspective. By walking in someone else’s shoes, we gain understanding and empathy. This helps in conflict, by shifting focus to the substantive issues.

5) Exercise Active Listening skills. Active listening involves making a conscious effort to not only hear the words another person is saying, but to try to understand the whole message being conveyed. Active listening requires concentration and understanding, and it encourages us to focus on behavior, body language and tone. This process can be especially difficult in tense situations, as we can often become distracted by our own feeling and thoughts. We often spend our time forming counter arguments, which can lead us to miss crucial information and can contribute to a lack of listening and understanding.

These 5 communication practices will help address emotions in challenging situations. For long-term and difficult conflict, it may be necessary to turn to a conflict resolution specialist that offers mediation, analytical problem solving, and/or relationship building. For more information on services such as these, visit our website at

C. (1998). Managing Strong Emotions. Retrieved August 23, 2017, from

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