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Emotional Factors in Conflict Management


Many perennial conflicts have failed to be settled due to failure of the mediators to come up with the appropriate strategies which would put all the aspects of the conflict into consideration and hence translate into positive results. In addition, some factors have proved to be difficult to deal with because of their psychological orientation which calls for a more psychological approach as compared to the physical one. Emotional factors are among the psychological twists associated with conflict assessment and response. As a result, this essay will point out the emotional factors embroidered within this field and relate them to the theories and hence evaluate the role played by the emotional factors.

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Before coming up with a solution to anything, it is important to have an understanding of its dimensions. This helps identify the most appropriate approaches. In the event of a conflict, Mitchell identifies three major factors whose interaction results into conflicts. These factors are situation, behavior and attitude.

Emotional Factors in Conflict Management

The first point of the model marked as 1 shows that behavior usually implicates on the situation. As he points out, when the effort to attain a certain goal fails to be achieved, there might arise a sense of frustration which will increase the desire to fight for the targets. Behavior, the other hand, has an impact on the situation. In the event of success, new questions tend to come concerning the conflict. The situation on its part has an impact on the attitude of the actors.

For example, if the expected goals are not attained, an attitude of distrust and suspicion tend to come up. When certain attitudes are formed, they tend to result into a given form of behavior. For example, if the players form an attitude of “those are our traditional enemies and are bound to attack again,” they are likely to come up with defensive strategies. On the other hand, behavior implicates strongly on the attitude.

This is to say that when behaviors like destruction occur, the victims will change their attitude to hatred. The opposite is also true. If the players meet success, there is likelihood of a development of the attitude of oneness. There will be no ‘them’ and ‘us’. There will be only ‘us’ implying both the sides. Finally, attitude has a strong implication on the situation. If the players continue having a negative attitude, the conflict tends to grow longer and this raises more and more questions (Swanstrom & Weissman, 2005, p 8).

What implication has this model in connection with the role of emotions during conflict management? To start with, the model identifies that attitude has a great implication on the behavior. This means that if the attitude is positive, it can lead to a positive behavior while the opposite is true. The relationship between attitude and emotions are completely conjoined. Emotions towards a person can result into the formation of an attitude that will reflect the similar emotions. For example, if one side of the conflict has an attitude that ‘they are enemies who usually attack us and steal from us’, the resultant behavior will undoubtedly be hatred.

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Contrarily, if the emotion between the two players is love, the attitude formed will not by any means be negative, instead, they will be positive and thus translate into positive behavior. On the other hand, behavior has either positive or negative implication on the attitude.

While destructive behavior will lead to hatred and mistrust and thus result into the formation of a negative attitude continuing the conflict cycle. If destruction occurs during a conflict, the victims tend to develop the attitude of fear, anger and hatred. With such emotions, the chances are high that the attitude formed will be negative. With the model showing an interactive relationship between the three factors, any form of negative implication on any of the three factors will always lead to negative reflections on every factor. This means that where emotions like fear, hatred, anger, revenge, rejection etc have established, the chances of a conflict are so high (Swanstrom & Weissman, 2005, p 8).

On the other hand, the situation has a great implication on the behavior. When the situation becomes worse, an individual might respond in relation to the other party basing on his own perception whether right or wrong. In his own thinking, the member of the conflict tends to develop a certain belief or expectation of a certain behavior from his counter part (Vyrynen). While this response of behavior prediction is natural within the human being, it might not reflect the actuality of the situation. When emotions set in at this point of the conflict, it becomes predictable that the likely response would be detrimental.

With emotions like fear and anxiety taking a greater toll on the individual, he is likely to predict a negative behavior from his counterpart. This might not be true but the reaction or behavior from him might trigger the expected behavior thus enforcing the attitude and belief. In case of a similar situation later, the person is likely to expect the same behavior as he had witnessed earlier and thus behave in a manner tha would protect him from the expected harm. As a result, a stereotypical image of the other party as aggressors will have developed. The first party will thus develop emotions of fear and distrust.

Another tricky part of emotions in conflict resolution is the definition of the ways through which emotions can be termed as part of the conflict. Who decides that the emotions should be considered part of the conflict? (Deutsch et al ). According to Deutsch et al, emotions play three important roles in human life. First, they act as the monitors of the individual’s inner world, relate the inner world to the outside world and finally, they trigger appropriate action according to the realized circumstances of the inner and outer world. Without ultimate control on our emotions, these natural functions can result into great chaos.

For example, fear can lead into several steps. It can make an individual decide to flee, stand to fight back or sit down for a negotiation. Instinctive emotions like fear are usually impulsive and hasty thus giving no room for rational thinking or self control. Eventually, fear results into great and complex conflicts like the World war two and the Rwanda genocide.

On its part, anger acts as a response when an individual feels hurt. Whenever an individual feels that he has been treated unfairly or that he has not received the due respect, he tends to react with anger. The degree of anger varies when we feel that the person who has hurt us had the capacity to control the action that hurt us. Furthermore, the degree of anger augments when we feel that person did the action intentionally.

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This means that during a conflict, the perception of unfair treatment or disrespect can lead instantly to a feeling of anger which will manifest in terms of wanting to pay back. Revenge will step in as a response to the action by the other party. On the other hand, humiliation can be of great impact in conflict assessment and resolution. In normal circumstances, the feelings of inequality, poverty and conflicting interests are not automatically considered negative.

In situations where the victims of these phenomena find it justified, though they might harbor the feelings of pain due to the imbalance, they might not find these situations to call for fixing and thus no conflict will arise neither will there be any violent reaction. In other cases, conflicts might arise but this does not mean that they have to be destructive. There are conflicts that can easily be solved through mutual understanding. This means that a destructive conflict arises when the emotions of humiliation crops and fail to be resolved constructively.

This leads to a violent reaction which results into violence (Deutsch et al). Therefore, the feeling of humiliation triggers violent reaction with the sole reason of “…lessening pain and increasing self worth.” Finally, destructive feelings of humiliation can be triggered through bad conflict resolutions. If a conflicting situation is handled wrongly, one party might feel humiliated and thus form another cycle of conflict.

Guilt and shame can lead to conflicts or can come as a result of conflicts (CRInfo, 2009). In most cases, people feel guilty or ashamed of the things they did or said. In the case of a conflict, this can be very important step that can help resolve or prevent a conflict. During the conflict cycle, a good use of these emotions can be during the stage of de-escalation. At this point most of the people are more concerned about the actions they did during the time of war. At this point, the individuals would be in position to negotiate a better stand that would result into a win-win situation. However, these emotions can also be a challenge to the issue of conflict resolution.

According to the Thomas-Kilmann Conflict Mode Instrument, this could lead to ‘avoidance’ as a means of solving a conflict. This results when one tries to evade a controversial situation so that he does not hurt another person’s feelings. As much as this method could be useful in some situations, it is considered weak and can easily result into another conflict later when one cannot hold it any more.

This means that if the individual is ready to avoid a conflict situation because of the feeling of guilt and shame after what happened earlier, it is likely that the conflict will later erupt meaning that the conflict was not well solved. To make a good use of this, the mediators must ensure that the feeling is well approached because it forms a strong weapon for peace building. Both parties should be encouraged to face the emotions of humiliation candidly and warmly and come up with a solution that has respectful justice.

Hope is a human feeling that is associated with positive results. It does not only result in terms of conflict resolution but in all aspects of life including athletics and academics. Although an individual’s up bringing might impact on this, hope is a feeling that can be learnt. Inadequate approach to this feeling can also be detrimental to the process of conflict resolution. Unrealistic expectations can result into hopelessness which is equally destructive (Deutsch et al).

The Thomas-Kilmann Model also underpins the importance of emotions in conflict resolution. In one of the conflict types called Competitive conflict, the model identifies that one party might take a strong stand and be sure of what they need. This party that might be powerful as a result of their rank, position or persuasive ability is given victory at the expense of the other party which is relatively weaker. While the method can work well within a situation that needs an urgent solution or if the best solution is bound to be unpopular, the method is somehow weak. The party that is dissatisfied develops unfavorable emotions as a result of bruised feelings.

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Anger, humiliation, hatred, and sadness would develop within the hearts of the losers. These emotions will eventually play a role in the formation of a given attitude which will implicate on the behavior of the individuals and certainly implicate on the situation sending the conflict back to its first stage. This means that the conflict will not have been solved due to the failure to meet the emotional needs of the players (Mindtools, 2009).

Femenia (2008) identifies three factors that are deemed the main causes of conflicts. These are based on the theories by Maslow and John Burton. According to these two theorists, the human nature is always searching to satisfy the needs of respect recognition and validation.

Therefore, conflictive situations are simply manifestations of these needs. This means that such a situation does not only contain the logical part but also experiences the emotional part which plays an important role in the formation of the conflict. With the internal demands for recognition weighing heavily on the human nature, the person tries hard to satisfy these needs which are, unfortunately, unsatisfactory. As a result, the person decides to take a rigid position which will act as the cover for fear and anxiety (Knol, 2008).

How can emotions be used constructively in the issue of conflict resolution? To understand how conflicts can be used appropriately to solve conflicts, it is important to accept that emotions play the center role in conflict situations. This means that approaching any conflict must first start with identifying which emotions are playing which roles then coming up with an appropriate means of tackling them.

One of the greatest ways of making use of these emotions in trying to solve a conflict is through fostering positive emotions and ensuring that all negative emotions are controlled. To assist in conflict management, individuals must learn how to make use of deep seated feelings and thoughts which are outside their thinking model and structure. Individuals should learn how to appreciate other people’s feelings.

They should learn the hot buttons in the lives of others so that they try to avoid touching them in order to avoid violent reactions. In addition, the individuals should also learn their own hot buttons so that they can avoid situations that might lead to people pressing them and causing violent reactions. By understanding our hot buttons and the reactions associated with them, we are likely to look for ways through which we can avoid reacting in search manner (Deutsch et al).


For a successful resolution of a conflict, there must be effective communication. It only through this that a compromising position can be reached. Unfortunately, emotions are great hindrances to communication (Deutsch et al). According to Deutsch et al, emotions are effective communications’ gate keepers. They not only hinder effective communication but also hinder rational thinking. How can one attain positive thinking and avoid negative emotions? This can be done through encouraging of hope.

The individuals involved in a conflict must be encouraged to develop the emotion of hope. Other third party members in the conflict resolution should try to encourage the individuals not to dwell on what is missing but to put much concentration on what they have and what the future holds for them.

The broaden-and-build model which gives more insight and questions the common assumptions in theory of emotions which purport that emotions usually tend to trigger physical action, refutes this positing that emotions can also cause cognitive changes in addition to the physical reactions. While traditional methods purport that negative emotions trigger destructive behavior, positive emotions usually trigger and “…broaden a person’s momentary thought-action repertoire.” Contrary to the traditional beliefs, the broaden and build model points out that negative emotions also bring about positive change in that it increases the analytical serial (Left Hemisphere).

As a result, a panicky and painful experience can lead to a firm stance and calm resilience of courage and hope. This means that by taming negative emotions so that they don’t act destructively can result into formation of positive traits that can be important in conflict resolution and response.

Individuals who engage in conflict management must aim at coming up with strategies that will not struggle to curb negative emotions, which is a difficult task, instead come up with ways through which negative emotions can be made to translate into positive reactions like staying cool and making positive resolutions. In addition, the members of a conflict party should also try to understand that negative emotions are no always doomed to give negative physical reactions but that at times, positive cognitive changes can occur as a result of these negative emotions. This should drive them to try and get positive results whenever they are overwhelmed by the negative emotions.


Brown, R. & Hewstone, M. (2005). An integrative theory of intergroup conflict. Advances in Experimental Social Psychology, 37, (pp. 255-343) San Diego, CA: Elsevier Academic Press.

CRInfo. (2006). Emotions. Beyondintractability. Web.

Deutsch, M., Coleman, P., and Marcus, E. (2006). The Handbook of Conflict Resolution. Ed. 2. New York: John Wiley and Sons.

Knol. (2008). Emotions, conflict resolution and peacemaking. Web.

Mindtools. (2009). Conflict resolution. Web.

Swanstrom, N., and Weissmann, M. (2005). Conflict, conflict prevention and conflict management and beyond: A conceptual exploration. Johns Hopkins University. Web.

Vyrynen, Raimo. (1991). New Directions in Conflict Theory. International Social Science Council. London: Sage Publishers.

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