For years psychologists have discussed the different reactions to conflict and stress that people commonly exhibit. Why it happens and how to deal with these reactions. When people experience stress and conflict their cerebrum, the part of the brain that is responsible for problem-solving, making peace and controlling compassion, completely shuts down.
The first psychological response to stress and conflict is ‘fight’. If we don’t believe we can fight and win, we choose ‘flight’. If none of those are viable, we ‘freeze’. So, here’s what each reaction can entail:
Reactions to Conflict: Fight
There are many ways in which someone can choose the ‘fight’ response, and often they vary in severity. Actions that would be linked with the ‘fight’ reaction are:
- Verbal abuse – This is using words and deeds to bully or discredit the other person involved in the conflict. They may try to damage the reputation of the other person or destroy them financially or professionally so that they can ‘win’.
- Litigation – This is something that people often use so that they can beat and humiliate their opponent in a court of law. Litigation is regularly threatened but not carried through – however, on occasion, this ‘fight’ response may be enacted.
- Physical assault – It’s the last thing that you want as a manager or business owner. However, occasionally conflicting personalities will see red and cause a commotion in the workplace with a physical altercation. Thankfully, most people’s professionalism will prevent this from happening, but it’s not unheard of.
Fight is one of the most damaging reactions to conflict because it can often cause employee relationships to break down beyond repair. It is also the reaction that will more than likely result in employees being dismissed from the business. More damaging is when two conflicting employees both choose to ‘fight’. This will cause an extremely toxic work environment that will need to be resolved quickly.
Reactions to Conflict: Flight
The ‘flight’ response may not be as severe as the ‘fight’ response. However, it can still cause the workplace environment to become toxic and uncollaborative. Some of the things that those who choose flight might do are:
- Denying everything – This involves simply ignoring the conflict that is taking place. A lot of the time, this will massively reduce the collaborative efforts of the team as teamwork is halted. It is often seen as the very first response in the conflict chain. This can sometimes develop into the ‘fight’ response.
- Runaway – The people who choose to do this will cause massive problems for a business, as running away may simply be avoiding their opponent in the office or taking days off in order to avoid the conflict.
With the ‘flight’ response, it often means that the conflict goes unnoticed for a long time until there is an unavoidable situation where it comes to light. To combat this, managers and owners need to remain vigilant and encourage an open-door policy. Whilst the ‘flight’ response is not as serious as a ‘fight’ response, if unnoticed it can manifest itself as the ‘fight’ reaction if the employee is provoked or becomes frustrated.
Reactions to Conflict: Freeze
When people freeze in conflict, they don’t actively do anything. They don’t run away, and they don’t fight with their opponent. This can almost be the most challenging response as people who have this reaction just disengage to appease their opponent. Whilst this often appears to solve the conflict, things will continue to fester underneath the surface and will cause discomfort and dissatisfaction among colleagues in the future.
If you’d like to know more about conflict resolution in the workplace, we offer a tailored training course in having difficult conversations