Emotional Intelligence and Managing Conflict in the Workplace

March 4, 2013

By Dr. Neil Katz

Dr. Neil Katz will serve as a presenter for the interactive Leadership Training Seminars, "Enhancing Council Effectiveness: Parts I & II," at the Congressional City Conference on March 10th, 2013 in Washington, D.C.

This two-part workshop for the spring 2013 National League of Cities (NLC) Conference in Washington D. C. is designed to enhance the success of NLC members by engaging participants with some of the fascinating recent research and skills building being done in the area of Emotional Intelligence and Conflict Management. Studies demonstrate that among capabilities that drive outstanding performance, Emotional Intelligence was twice as important as Technical Ability or Cognitive/Conceptual Reasoning, and accounted for up to 90 percent of the difference in the profile between "average" and "star" performers at senior levels of professional practice. The framework, theories, and competencies promoted in recent scholarship on Emotional Intelligence have direct impact on one's ability to influence others, negotiate effectively and manage conflict successfully.

Daniel Goleman's four part framework on emotional intelligence -- Self-Awareness, Self-Management, Awareness/Understanding of Others, and Relationship Management-- can be viewed as a template for assessing and developing competencies in influencing others with integrity. This workshop will follow the Goleman framework and work with theories, concepts, exercises and skill practice in each of the four critical segments of emotional intelligence to enhance confidence and competence in resolving differences and working collaboratively with others.

Part one of the NLC workshop will emphasize the first area of Emotional Intelligence---Self-Awareness. Research shows that without self-awareness, one is not likely to be highly successful in the other 3 areas of emotional intelligence. For self-awareness, we will focus on material emphasizing communication and conflict management styles in work settings.

In our private lives, and even in our work lives, most of us have some choice of folks that we choose to work with and socialize with. We can match our communication stylistic preferences with others and develop relationships with those with whom we are most compatible. Local public officials do not have that luxury. Their job and role responsibility demands that they serve all their constituents, and good service depends on understanding and meeting constituent needs. Communication effectiveness with a great variety of actors becomes an essential hallmark of public service leadership.

Many researchers have consistently claimed that individuals have different predispositions and preferences in communication styles, and these differences need to be understood, respected and dealt with successfully. Instead of allowing these predispositions and differences to precipitate conflict or avoidance behavior, these differences can be utilized as a positive force in leadership effectiveness. For this to occur, we need to identify these styles, appreciate their unique contributions and challenges, and become more adept in working with them to keep others and ourselves in a constructive/productive mode.

Two noted communication scholars, Susan Gilmore and Patrick Fraleigh, have identified four communication style preferences and predispositions-accommodator/harmonizer, analyzer/preserver, achiever/director, and affiliator/perfector. Each of these style preferences nurtures and develops traits and characteristics that become "strengths" of that particular style and allows for our successful functioning in interpersonal and organizational situations.
Gilmore and Fraleigh have also noted that many of us "shift" in our style preferences under conditions of extraordinary stress (i.e. "storm conditions") This stress shift is often more noticeable to others than it is to ourselves. Even more noticeable, and more problematic, is when our stress shifts accelerate our push us into "excess," and our stylistic strengths become liabilities in our communication effectiveness with others.

Exemplary public officials are aware of their own communication style strengths and vulnerabilities, and continually strive to enhance their communication effectiveness. Awareness includes knowledge of one's communication predispositions and preferences in both "calm" and "storm" conditions, and the "stress shift" that occurs as we move from one to the other. Even more critical to awareness and corrective action is knowledge of how our stylistic preferences might push us to be in "excess" from the viewpoint of others.

With expanded awareness of our communication patterns and their impact, we can choose to make changes if we so desire to more successfully communicate with and build rapport with others. Perhaps more important to our success as public servants, might be our recognition of the advantages of communication style differences as a source of great strength, as opposed to a source of divisiveness and discord. This recognition will allow us to recruit and develop people of complimentary and supplementary communication patterns as opposed to teams and supporters who replicate our own preferred style. The synergy that results from a virtual rainbow of style strengths will better equip us and our organizations to meet the difficult challenges of today and tomorrow.

Dr. Neil Katz is a Professor and Training Manager at Nova Southeastern University and Syracuse University.