OTPIC Officially Retired

As of December 2, 2005, the Online Training Program on Intractable Conflict (OTPIC) has been officially retired, and is no longer open to new registrations.

The successor to OTPIC is a course called Dealing Constructively with Intractable Conflicts (DCIC). The new curriculum is built around one of our major projects, Beyond Intractability, and offers a much more extensive and informative set of learning materials than that available through OTPIC.

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International Online Training Program On Intractable Conflict

Conflict Research Consortium, University of Colorado, USA

Managing Strong Emotions

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Strong emotions are both a cause of, and a result of conflict. People in conflict may have a variety of strong, and often negative emotions--anger, distrust, disappointment, frustration, confusion, worry, or fear. These emotions often mask the substantive issues in dispute. However, the emotions, too, are real and must be dealt with. Techniques for managing emotions include the following. (Many of these are taken from Fisher, Ury, and Patton, 1991, while others come from our own experience.)

1) Recognize and understand your own emotions as well as your opponents'. For instance, is your opponent angry, or just excited? Are you slightly worried, or profoundly afraid?

2) Determine the source of the feelings. Are your (or your opponent's) emotional responses to one issue being caused by your (or their) response to another issue? Is your (or their) anger or distrust caused by a bad experience in the past, rather than something that is occurring now?

3) Talk about feelings--yours and your opponents'. Don't suppress them, or deny them--acknowledge them and deal with them directly.

4) Express your own feelings in a non-confrontational way. This can be done, for example, by using I-messages, where you say "I feel angry because. . ." rather than "You made me angry by. . ." The first approach explains your feelings without accusing anyone else, while the second focuses blame on the opponent who is likely to become hostile or defensive in response. Click here for more information on I-messages.

5) Acknowledge your opponents' feelings as legitimate. Although you may feel differently about a situation, your opponents' feelings are real, and denying their existence or validity is just likely to intensify those feelings. Allowing them to be expressed and recognized helps release those feelings, so that you can move on to deal with the substantive issues in dispute. (Active listening is a good way to do this. For more information on active listening, click here.)

6) Do not react emotionally to emotional outbursts. You should acknowledge the outburst with active listening (which shows that you understand the strength of the speaker's feelings), but you should not react emotionally yourself, as that will likely escalate the emotions and the conflict as a whole. If you are having trouble staying calm, temporarily leave the room. Ury (1991) suggests "going to the balcony"-a metaphor for stepping out of the room into some actual and psychological "fresh air." By leaving the scene you have a chance to calm down and think. You can then plan an effective response, rather than reacting automatically which often makes the situation worse.

7) Use symbolic gestures. Gestures such as apologies, sympathy notes, shared meals, or even handshakes can be very useful in expressing respect and defusing negative emotions at little cost.

8) For highly emotional conflicts, choose a conflict resolution mechanism that deals with emotions directly. Choices include transformative mediation, analytical problem solving, and dialogue processes, among others.


Links to Examples of this Problem

Susan L. Carpenter and W.J.D. Kennedy--Handling the Human Side of the Process
The authors discuss how to manage strong emotions in this essay on handling "people problems."
John Amodeo and Kris Wentworth -- Working With Anger
The authors discuss how anger can be manifested in constructive, rather than destructive ways.
Lawrence Susskind and Patrick Field--Dealing with an Angry Public:  The Mutual Gains Approach to Resolving Disputes
This summary explains how businesses and government officials can successfully defuse public anger and encourage the public to work cooperatively with their opponents to solve their problems.


Links to Related Approaches

Cooling-Off Periods

Step-by-Step De-Escalation (GRIT)

Ground Rules

"I" Statements not "You" Statements


Links to Related Problems

Strong Emotions

Personal Attacks

Inflammatory Statements

Copyright 1998 Conflict Research Consortium  -- Contact: crc@colorado.edu