Have you ever been told you were too emotional during a difficult conversation? 

There is a big difference between having an emotion and acting on it or, sometimes worse, suppressing it. Emotions are essential to resolve conflict, and here is why:

  1. Emotions give us information that there is a conflict to address. 
  2. Emotions, when acknowledged, can guide us to the root cause of the conflict. 
  3. Emotions, when expressed in a healthy way, are a bond between people. 

Part of the misunderstanding around the role and value of emotions during conflicts comes from the fact that when we face conflict, we can go through Amygdala Hijack (AH): 

→ an overreaction triggered by a perceived threat to our physical or emotional safety that overwhelms us and prevents us from actually feeling our emotions, regulating them, and reasoning. 

Most people have heard of the strategies used by our brain when in AH:

  1. Flight
  2. Fight
  3. Freeze
  4. Fawn

But these are not our feelings. They are automatic responses to save ourselves; therefore, we cannot function normally, reason, and be in touch with our emotions. 

The way to recognize AH is to look for the following:

  • Speed in our response (we get triggered)
  • Inability to see more than one solution or appropriate reaction (“only yelling “will work)
  • Sudden physical symptoms (nausea, sweating, accelerated breathing)

During a conflict resolution, if one conflict partner experiences AH, we take a break because it takes several minutes for our body to return to a functioning state. Breathing techniques can help accelerate the process, but pursuing a conversation in AH is never a good idea. 

However, we need emotions. Emotions are the clues that lead us to unmet needs, which are the root causes of conflict. 

In this context, the role of mediators is to help:

  1. Make conflict partners aware of their emotions and physical sensations
  2. Trigger curiosity to investigate what these emotions and sensations mean
  3. Identify the unmet needs
  4. Create the conditions for these needs to be met

There is nothing wrong with feeling angry, afraid, sad, or frustrated: feeling our emotions is a difficult task requiring awareness, trust, and curiosity. We need it to resolve conflicts.  

So, the next time someone tells you “you are too emotional”, don’t suppress your emotions; instead, use this reframe:

How could this emotion help resolve the conflict?