The Role of Emotional Self Regulation

Posted on February 17th, 2015 by Craig Runde

The Role of Emotional Self Regulation

by Craig Runde, Director of the Center for Conflict Dynamics

Recent research has found that improved emotion regulation can prevent task conflict from turning into relationship conflict.(1) This means that improving self-awareness of your own hot buttons, learning how to delay your responses, and developing ways to cool down in the heat of conflict can help you resolve conflicts more effectively and avoid exacerbating matters.


Learning more about your hot buttons helps prevent you from getting caught off guard when someone acts in a way that pushes one of your buttons. If you have taken time to reflect on why certain behaviors irritate you as well as how you want to respond when one of your buttons is pushed, you’ll be more aware of what is happening and can consciously slow things down to give you a chance to calm down and choose your next step.


Emotion Wheel


A number of effective approaches can be used to regulate your emotions when they have been triggered. These include process to take your mind off of what is getting you upset as well as considering ways of reappraising the meaning of what has happened.(2) The key is to find a technique that works for you–one that you can use to regain your composure, no matter where you are at on the emotion wheel (pictured). This will enable you to consciously choose to use more constructive approaches when engaging with the other person.

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(1) Curseu, P. , Boros, S., and Oerlermans, L., “Task and Relationship conflict in short-term and long-term groups: The critical roll of emotion regulation.” International Journal of Conflict Management. 2012, 23(1), 97-107.

(2) Runde, C. and Flanagan, T. Becoming a Conflict Competent Leader
(2nd Ed.). San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2012.

Take a Personal Time Out

Posted on February 17th, 2015 by Craig Runde

Take a Personal Time Out

by Craig Runde, Director of the Center for Conflict Dynamics


One of the passive constructive behaviors measured by the Conflict Dynamics Profile is called Delay Responding. In the CDP context Delay Responding is described as responding to conflict by waiting things out, letting things settle down, or taking a “time out” when emotions are running high.


Personal Time Out
The items associated with Delay Responding include: delay responding until the situation has settled down, take a “time out” in order to let things settle down, wait things out and see if the situation improves, temporarily leave the situation, and let things calm down before proceeding. Delay Responding has the lowest average scores of all of the CDP constructive behaviors.


People are emotionally challenged in conflict situations and this can cause them to speed up. They want to get things resolved. When they are energized by the conflict or are under the grip of negative emotions, it becomes easy to say or do things they may later regret. You have the ability as a CDP certified user to help them realize that delaying their response may be important. It can help them regain composure and have a chance to reflect on how they want to proceed.


It can be difficult to use Delay Responding in the heat of the moment. We recommend developing some strategies in advance that you can use when you need to buy time to let things settle down. This might include asking for a short break. It might also include telling the other person that the issue at hand is important and you want some additional time to reflect on things before going further.

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Retaliation leads to Escalation

Posted on February 6th, 2015 by Craig Runde

Retaliation leads to Escalation

by Craig Runde, Director of the Center for Conflict Dynamics

Conflict escalates because of how someone perceives and responds to your behavior. Controlling your behavior and consciously choosing your response can help you disrupt what the Mediation Training Institute (MTI) refers to as the Retaliatory Cycle. In this article we’ll look at how emotion regulation can also disrupt the Retaliatory Cycle.

The Retaliatory Cycle

MTI’s concept of the Retaliatory Cycle provides clear insight into how conflict escalates because of the way people perceive and respond to the behavior of others. It shows how a triggering behavior is first perceived by someone. This, in turn, generates an emotional response, typically anger. This anger then drives people to respond with one of the wrong responses – power-plays or walk-aways. These behaviors then trigger the other person and the cycle continues.

Behavior is Easiest Change

Dan Dana, who created the Retaliatory Cycle concept, generally recommends that the easiest place to disrupt the cycle is in the acting out phase, because it is easier to consciously choose better behaviors than it is to manage your emotions or change your perceptions.

Managing Emotions

There is also merit in learning to manage and regulate your emotions. A recent research article on emotion regulation nd conflict suggests that by regulating emotions, teams are able to keep conflict from becoming destructive and to get better performance results. (1) While it can be challenging, working on improving your emotional intelligence and emotion regulation can help lessen the grip of the Retaliatory Cycle. A number of helpful techniques for managing conflict emotions can be found in Runde and Flanagan’s Becoming a Conflict Competent Leader (2nd ed.) 2012.

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(1) Curseu, P. , Boros, S., and Oerlermans, L., “Task and Relationship conflict in short-term and long-term groups: The critical role of emotion regulation.” International Journal of Conflict Management. 2012, 23(1), 97-107.

Learning How to Reach Out

Posted on January 15th, 2015 by Craig Runde

Learning How to Reach Out

by Craig Runde, Director of the Center for Conflict Dynamics


One of the active constructive behaviors measured by the Conflict Dynamics Profile (CDP) instrument is called Reaching Out. It is described as responding to conflict by reaching out to the other person, making the first move, and trying to make amends.

Leaders Reach Out

Research by the CDP authors has shown that there is a strong correlation between reaching out in conflict situations and being seen as an effective leader.

Leaders realize that letting conflicts fester will only lead to worse outcomes. So they get up the courage to ask the other person in the conflict if he or she would be willing to try to talk things out. At first, this may meet with rejection or even a blaming response from the other person. At this point it is critical to be able to maintain emotional balance and work to sell the other person on the benefits that solving the conflict will have for both of you.

Being willing to reach out in conflict situations can lead to further dialogue, which in turn can help develop solutions and improve personal relations. It is a skill worth improving.

Along with gaining awareness through the CDP assessment, it is inclusive of developmental guides to assist in improving these skills needed to effectively manage conflict.

Learn more about utilizing the CDP in your organization or practice.

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What gets you hot under the collar?

Posted on January 1st, 2015 by Craig Runde

What gets you hot under the collar?

by Craig Runde, Director of the Center for Conflict Dynamics

If you have ever had a co-worker or partner that aggravated you to the point where you initiated a conflict, then you have experienced your Hot Button. The Conflict Dynamics Profile (CDP) assessment measures these triggering events that we call Hot Buttons. These verbal or non-verbal triggers can unknowingly lead you into MTI’s retaliatory cycle.

By better understanding those behaviors that set off hot buttons you lessen the chances of getting caught off guard. You also increase your ability to manage conflict emotions and prevent getting caught up in reacting with the “wrong reflexes.”

The CDP measures people’s sensitivity to different workplace hot buttons–behaviors like untrustworthiness, micro-managing, abrasiveness, and unreliability.

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Dialogue Makes the Difference

Posted on December 15th, 2014 by Craig Runde

Dialogue Makes the Difference

by Craig Runde, Director of the Center for Conflict Dynamics

When we ask people whether they talk more or less with those with whom they are in conflict, the answer is always the same – they talk less! Our next question is when they talk less with the other person, are they more or less likely to resolve the conflict? This question is first met with uncomfortable laughter and then an admission that they can’t solve conflict very well without talking to the other person.

Lessen Distress

The process of dialogue – face-to-face issue-focused verbal conversation – is at the heart of the MTI conflict resolution program. When people can keep talking about a problem, they eventually get past the anger and frustration that characterize most conflicts. Natural psychological forces towards harmony eventually build and enable breakthroughs to occur as participants’ emotional distress is reduced.

Conversation Leads the Way

Reach a Breakthrough

It can be tough to stay in the process in the beginning. The early stages of discussion are often marked by confrontation which can be uncomfortable. Dr. Dana’s Mediation Map helps people understand that while the early stage can be challenging, there is light at the end of the tunnel. Sticking with the conversation usually leads to a breakthrough followed by a conciliation phase.

View the Mediation Map

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CDP Behaviors: Creating Solutions and Reflective Thinking

Posted on November 30th, 2014 by Craig Runde

CDP Behaviors – Creating Solutions and Reflective Thinking

by Craig Runde, Director of the Center for Conflict Dynamics

After taking time to understand the other person’s perspective and sharing your own thoughts and feelings about a conflict, it comes time to look at what you can do to come up with a resolution to the problem that can work for you and the other person. While it seems obvious why the solution should work for you, there are times when we yield to others and generate one-sided solutions that do not meet our own interests. Likewise, there are times when we try to win at all costs even if it means the other person’s interests are disregarded. In both of these cases, the win-lose nature of the outcome jeopardizes the sustainability of the result. The person who lost is going to be less invested in making sure that the resolution works because it doesn’t meet their needs.

While searching for solutions, it becomes important to look for solutions that meet the interests of both parties. The first step to do this is to understand those interests. The next step involves brainstorming to come up with possible options. During the brainstorming it is best to hold off critiquing the options, so that one idea stimulates the next.

Once you have developed a set of options, it is time for the process of reflective thinking. In this phase you review the options generated during the brainstorming session. Weigh the pros and cons of the various ideas that were developed. Look to see if you can find options that would address your interests as well as those of the other person. When you find options that deliver mutual gains, you will have discovered the basis for a sustainable resolution of the problem.

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Perspective Taking and Emotions

Posted on August 31st, 2014 by Craig Runde

Perspective Taking and Emotions

by Craig Runde, Director of the Center for Conflict Dynamics

One of the most important constructive conflict responses is perspective taking. This behavior involves trying to see an issue from another person’s perspective. A common description is trying to “put yourself in the other person’s shoes.”

Most people admit that perspective taking can be challenging. We often believe we are right and the other person is wrong. This attitude makes it harder to consider other people are thinking and why they see things the way they do.

Perspective taking can be even more difficult when we are upset. When we are angry or afraid, our own ability to use perspective taking can be compromised. Negative emotions can narrow our focus and limit our capacity to think broadly. Conversely, fostering more positive emotions helps us to open up and view things from a wider perspective.[1] These types of emotional self-regulation practices can be very beneficial in improving perspective taking skills.

[1] Frederickson, B., The Role of Positive Emotions in Positive Psychology: The Broaden-and-Build Theory of Positive Emotions, American Psychologist, 2001, 56(3), 218-226.

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Confidence in Resolving Conflict

Posted on February 20th, 2014 by Craig Runde

Confidence in Resolving Conflicts

Having confidence to resolve conflicts is an important part of the process.  There are myriad reasons why you might lack confidence when faced with a conflict:  fear, discomfort, previous negative encounters, lack of skill, knowledge, or experience, etc.  Let’s look at these issues and how they affect your ability to effectively manage conflict.

Recognize the signs of low self-confidence.  When you’re not confident about dealing with conflict, you tend to doubt your abilities, second-guess yourself, and be hesitant about trusting your own judgment.  You also might be pessimistic about a successful outcome which, in turn, gives you an excuse for not engaging in the first place.  Be aware of when these kinds of negative thoughts arise because they often can become a downward spiral, reinforcing your initial belief that you can’t do it.  Replace “I can’t do this,” with “This may be difficult, but I will try to do it.”

Don’t let fear lead to avoidance.  You may be like many people who dislike conflict because you’re afraid of it.  Perhaps your experiences with conflict in the past have not ended well, and so your tendency is to shy away, not engage the other person, or just plain avoid any kind of conversation or confrontation.  Most experts agree that avoiding conflict is one of the worst responses you can have because the possibility of resolution is completely cut off from the start, and, more often than not, the conflict will only get worse, not better.  One strategy to try is to start small and “work your way up” to a conflict with wider implications.  In other words, force yourself to initiate discussion about something small just to get practice for other, more significant conflicts that might be on the horizon.  “Practicing” in this way not only gets you out of your old pattern of avoiding, but it also builds confidence for the future as you begin to experience the positive results of working through a problem more collaboratively.

Prepare in advance.  So much of how a conflict is handled determines the outcome.  When do you choose to talk?  Where is the discussion held?  What words do you use to convey your message?  What tone do you use?  All of these are issues to think about ahead of time so that the conditions surrounding the conversation are conducive for a beneficial result.  Actually practice what you’re going to say either by yourself or, even better, role play the conversation with a trusted friend, coach, or colleague.  Then when you’re in the real conversation, you’re calmer, more relaxed, and better prepared to respond to any number of reactions from the other person.  Again, feeling prepared and in control leads to confidence.

Think through the consequences of not having the conversation.  Although it sometimes seems easier to avoid conflicts, there are all kinds of negative ramifications of not addressing the issue.  If you really analyze these drawbacks, you’ll probably be persuaded to take a different approach.  With non-action, the situation remains stagnant and nothing improves; even worse, it could steadily decline and become even more damaging over time.  Another disadvantage to not addressing the problem head-on is that you can become an easy target for people who are more aggressive or manipulative.  On the Conflict Dynamics Profile®, “Yielding” is considered a Destructive scale because, as with “Avoiding,” it is a response that fails to engage others directly in an effort to resolve conflict.

Keep emotions in check.  A lack of confidence in conflicts often generates strong feelings because your sense of security or need for respect or intimacy is threatened.  Your tendency might be to react very strongly or simply shut down.  It’s important to be in touch with your emotions and be able to notice when you’re getting heated.  Be careful of the words you use, try to get all the facts, and be respectful at all times.  Remember that dealing with emotions in a healthy way can lead to greater understanding and trust.

Develop skills in the conflict arena.  Nothing improves confidence like additional training.  Whether it’s reading a book on communications and practicing on your own or participating in a more formal training program, the more you learn, the more confident you’re going to feel.  “Stretch” yourself by setting goals that are challenging, but achievable.  Seek feedback on an ongoing basis so that you can continue to grow in your proficiency and self-awareness.

Celebrate your successes.  Though painful at times, the little steps you take in addressing conflicts provide a real opportunity for growth.  You will see that facing disagreements can strengthen, not damage, personal and professional relationships.  Recognizing the small achievements along the way helps motivate you to behave similarly the next time.

Conflict Competence

Posted on November 21st, 2013 by Patricia Viscomi


Conflict competence is the ability to develop and use cognitive, emotional, and behavioral skills that enhance productive outcomes of conflict while reducing the likelihood of escalation or harm.  The results of conflict competence include improved quality of relationships, creative solutions, and lasting agreements for addressing challenges and opportunities in the future. As with all competencies, people can learn ways to improve, change, and develop.

We believe that those with a keen sense of self awareness are well positioned to develop conflict competence. This requires honesty and objectivity.  It requires seeking feedback from others.  We recommend using assessment instruments for a thorough analysis.

It is also helpful to understand how conflict begins and unfolds.  Cognitive understanding of the “mechanics” of conflict can help to demystify the impact of conflict. In addition, preparation for conflict is critical.  In almost all cases, we find that those who are best prepared for conflict have the best outcomes, the fewest issues, and the most satisfying relationships with their conflict partners.

Most importantly, we believe that developing skills, learning mental models, and applying basic principles are the keys to developing conflict competence.   Our model is simple and involves three key steps—cooling down, slowing down, and engaging constructively. We will address the components of the model fully in the pages to follow.  In short though, the model suggests that those who deal well with emotions, are mindful of the ramifications of conflict, and use effective skills during conflict have the best chance of productive outcomes.

Ten Principles of Conflict Competence for Individuals, Teams, and Organizations

Conflict competence applies to individuals, teams and organizations.  It is relevant at work, home, and in community settings.  The following principles capture the key elements of conflict competence and can be used to frame effective training efforts.

  1. Conflict is inevitable and can lead to positive or negative results depending on how it is handled.

When we talk with people, they readily admit that conflict is inevitable.  Their life experience has confirmed that when people interact with one another their different perspectives and needs lead to conflicts. They are keenly aware of the negative aspects of conflict but less so about its potential benefits.

  1. While people generally see conflict as negative and prefer to avoid it, better results can emerge from engaging it constructively.

Research in organizational conflict has identified various types of conflict which lead to different outcomes. Two important types include task conflict which focuses on resolving the issues that stem from differences and relationship conflict that emerges when people are more interested in placing blame than they are solving problems. Task conflict can lead to creative solutions and improved decisions, whereas relationship conflict almost always leads to interpersonal tension and poorer performance. People have more experience with relationship conflict and as a consequence see conflict as a negative to be avoided.  This often leads them to respond ineffectively and guarantees that they experience the dysfunctions that come with that type of conflict.  When they are able to engage conflict effectively though, they are more likely to attain the benefits that can come from task conflict.

  1. In order to overcome reluctance to address conflict, people need to believe it is important to do so—thus recognizing the value of managing conflict effectively is critically important.

Motivation is as important as knowledge in developing conflict competence.  Changing established beliefs and patterns of behavior is difficult and unless people see value in doing so it won’t happen. Helping them understand the benefits that emerge from managing conflict effectively is critical in providing the rationale and impetus to undertake this work.

  1. Individual conflict competence involves developing cognitive, emotional, and behavioral skills that enable one to cool down, slow down and engage conflict constructively.

When faced with conflict, people respond in a variety of ways.  They think about what is happening.  They experience emotional reactions that are influenced by the ways they view and interpret the conflict.  They also take action to address the concerns that the conflict raises.  In order for a person to be able to deal effectively with conflict, they need to be able to improve their cognitive, emotional and behavioral skills so they can cool down, slow down, and engage the matter constructively.

  1. Cognitive skills include developing self-awareness about their current attitudes and responses to conflict and an understanding of its basic dynamics.

As with most leadership skills, self-awareness plays an important role in becoming more effective in dealing with conflict.  This includes an understanding of how people currently view conflict because their attitudes can affect their responses to it.  Self-awareness also involves understanding what triggers a person in the first place as well as how they respond when conflict emerges. This awareness allows them to leverage effective responses and at the same time work on improving areas where they are using ineffective behaviors.  This development work plays out better when people recognize some of the fundamental dynamics of the conflict process.

  1. Emotional skills include understanding one’s emotional responses to conflict, regulating those responses to attain and maintain emotional balance, understanding and managing the emotions of one’s conflict partners, and when necessary slowing down to allow extra time to cool down.

In order to be able to use constructive behavioral responses to conflict, a person first needs to be able to manage his emotional responses.  This allows him to become curious and curiosity is such a key factor in engaging one’s conflict partner constructively.  Conflict is all about emotion and being able to manage one’s emotions provides a foundation from which to choose and use constructive behavioral responses.

  1. Behavioral skills include engaging constructively by understanding others’ perspectives, emotions, and needs; sharing one’s own thoughts, feelings and interests; collaborating to develop creative solutions to issues; and reaching out to get communications restarted when they have stalled.

Considerable research and publishing have been done in the field of conflict and there is considerable agreement about the kinds of behaviors that work well to resolve conflicts.  These include listening to understand how other people see an issue, sharing one’s own perspectives, working together to develop effective solutions to problems and keeping communications going.  When these behaviors can be used, conflict can move in more productive directions. Of course, it can be a challenge to use these behaviors.  If it were simple, people would already handle conflicts better.

  1. Engaging constructively also involves reducing or eliminating the use of destructive behaviors characterized by fight or flight responses to conflict.

One of the reasons that responding constructively can be such a challenge is that people are more likely to default to destructive fight or flight behaviors, either because these are the kinds of responses they have learned to use or because they are upset and turn to reactive behaviors in order to protect themselves.  Reducing the use of these kinds of responses depends in large part on developing and practicing new, more constructive approaches and on regulating emotional reactions to conflict.

  1. In team settings, conflict competence includes creating the right climate to support the use of the cool down, slow down, and engage constructively model among teammates so they can have open and honest discussions of issues.  Creating the right climate includes developing trust and safety, promoting collaboration, and enhancing team emotional intelligence.

In order to manage conflict effectively team members need to be able to discuss issues openly and honestly.  When they can robustly debate issues without turning a task focused conflict into one involving relationship conflict, they can develop better, more creative solutions.  This is not easy to do and requires developing norms that produce the right climate for managing conflict constructively.  This includes changing attitudes about conflict so that it not just something to avoid.  It also means creating a safe environment where team members trust that what they say won’t be used against them.  Working together with team spirit produces collaborative effort that can enable people to give others the benefit of the doubt when conflict emerges.  Managing emotions is important in teams settings as well as in individual contexts because emotions are contagious and if not addressed can spread tension throughout the team.  Team members also need to use constructive behaviors when addressing conflicts in order to keep a solution- oriented focus to their discussions.

  1. In organizational contexts, conflict competence involves creating a culture that supports the cool down, slow down, and engage constructively model.  This includes aligning mission, policies, training programs, performance standards, and reward structures to reinforce the conflict competence model.  It also includes creating integrated conflict management systems to support these cultural changes.

In order to be conflict competent an organization needs for its leaders, managers, supervisors, and employees to be individually conflict competent. At the same time it needs to align its conflict management processes with its mission, values, policies, performance standards, and reward structure in order to reinforce the kind of conflict behaviors it wants its personnel to use with each other and with its vendors and customers. This involves creating systems to reinforce its conflict model and to provide multiple avenues for employees to use to address conflicts, preferably at the lowest possible level at the earliest possible time.

 Individual Conflict Competence Model

Our model of individual conflict competence looks at cognitive, emotional, and behavioral aspects of how people respond to conflict.  Key elements of the model are shown in Figure 1.1.

Figure 1.1      

Cool Down relates to strategies to help regulate emotions so a person can maintain or regain emotional balance before proceeding further.  If you are upset your cognitive faculties are impaired and it is easy to slip into use of destructive behaviors. So a key first step is to make sure that your emotions are managed effectively.  Since emotions can come and go rather quickly, it may be necessary to cool down several times during a conflict.

Slow Down involves developing a strategy for what to do when Cooling Down is not working.  Strong emotions can be challenging, and despite our best efforts there will be times when our efforts to calm down will not be entirely effective. In these cases it is important to have ways of being able to slow things down.  Taking a time out to enable your emotions to calm down is way better that going too far and saying something you will later regret.  These comments that are accompanied by having your foot in your mouth usually escalate the conflict and prove very hard to undo.

Once you have used Cool Down and Slow Down to allow you time to gain a more balanced state, you can then move on to engage the other person using constructive behaviors.

 Engage Constructively

The key behaviors associated with the engage constructively part of the Individual Conflict Competence Model are reaching out, perspective taking/listening for understanding, sharing thoughts and feelings, and collaborating to create solutions.                                                                                                            

Reaching Out is a behavior described in the Conflict Dynamics Profile.  It involves working with the other person either at the very start of conflict to get communications moving or later on to get things back on track.

Perspective Taking and Listening for Understanding involve listening for how the other person sees the situation, using empathy to understand how the other person is feeling, and asking about what they want.  Through this process you can develop new insights about the conflict and help lower tensions.

Sharing Your Thoughts and Feelings involves telling the other person how you see the situation, how you feel about it, and what you want for yourself and the other person.

Collaborate to Create Solutions involves trying to find answers to the issues raised by the conflict that will work for both parties.  It includes reflecting on the merits of alternative solutions, brainstorming with the other person to develop new approaches, and remaining flexible so you can make the best out of whatever solution is devised.


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