How Emotional Intelligence and Social Intelligence Influence Conflict Management Leadership


In the field of Conflict Management and Dispute Resolution, it is important to recognize that the theories for the various process are drawn from both the social and the psychological schools of thought. Primarily though, most conflict theories fall within the realm of social conflict theories and the science of conflict management as discussed in other posts. 

In this post, we will be looking at Emotional Intelligence and Social Intelligence. 

Emotional Intelligence

Emotional Intelligence directly relates to how you manage conflict and how you engage in the cycle of conflict. This video by Daniel Goleman, author of Emotional Intelligence (1997) provides an introduction to the concept and a grounding point for the meaning of emotional intelligence within this post and any other posts on this site:

As indicated in the video, Emotional Intelligence (EQ) was originated by a psychologist, Daniel Goleman (1997) and is defined as:

“A form of intelligence relating to the emotional side of life, such as the ability to recognize and manage one’s own and others’ emotions, to motivate oneself and restrain impulses, and to handle interpersonal relationships effectively.” (Goleman, 1997)

Demonstrated emotional competence is obvious when individuals possess certain capacities to manage their emotions, motivate themselves when faced with adversity and communicate effectively.

Following the works related to Emotional Intelligence (EQ), Goleman (1997) explores the competencies related to EQ. Essentially, Goleman defines emotional competence as:

“A learned capability based on emotional intelligence that results in outstanding performance at work. Our emotional intelligence determines our potential for learning the practical skills based on the five elements: self-awareness, motivation, self-regulation, empathy, and adeptness in relationships. Our emotional competence shows how much of that potential we have translated into on-the-job capabilities.” (Goleman, Working with Emotional Intelligence, 1997)

Within the context of the definitions of EQ and emotional competence, Goleman (1997) discusses the five dimensions of EQ and the twenty-five emotional competencies with capabilities that are:

  1. Independent
    1. each contributes to job performance
  2. Interdependent
    1. each draws to some extent on certain others with strong interactions
  3. Hierarchical
    1. the emotional intelligence capabilities build upon one another
  4. Necessary
    1. But not sufficient as having an emotional intelligence doesn’t guarantee the competencies will be demonstrated
  5. Generic
    1. different jobs make differing competence demands

Daniel Goleman says we have two minds:

  • Rational

  • Emotional

Our rational mind is the intelligence or the ‘IQ’ section of our brain where our intellectual (cognitive) intelligence is stimulated and stored. This part of our brain provides us with the ability to make rational decisions through a complex thought process where we take in data to evaluate our options to make a decision.

Our emotional mind is the primal and instinctive part of our brain that ‘feels’ what is taking place first, then second, we ‘think’ about possible options for decisions with our rational brain. This part of our brain functions through reaction and is considered the hub of our Emotional Intelligence (EQ).

A sideview of the human brain to show where emotional intelligence is housed

Essentially, our brain functions in a way that previous research indicated that everything went through the neocortex of our brain. The circuitry, which is the network of interconnected neurons in the nervous system and especially the brain, shows a connection to the amygdala. The amygdala is where neural hijacking occurs when we become emotionally stimulated.

What occurs is the data and stimuli come in through our senses with the amygdala acting as an alarm centre. The amygdala assigns meaning to the data and stimuli, like fear or danger, and we go into a fight, flight or freeze mode. It is when the chemical is secreted into our brains that we react. Our reaction all happens before our rational brain can kick in.

Becoming emotionally intelligent is first acknowledging that the emotional brain exists and reacts first before we have an opportunity to think. This is achieved greatly by:

  • Knowing your feelings and using them to make life decisions you can live with;
  • Being able to manage your emotional life without being hijacked by it — not being paralyzed by depression or worry, or swept away by anger;
  • Persisting in the face of setbacks and channelling your impulses in order to pursue your goals;
  • Empathy — reading other people’s emotions without their having to tell you what they are feeling;
  • Handling feelings in relationships with skill and harmony and being able to articulate the unspoken pulse of a group, for example.

Goleman (1997) suggests the following strategies to manage our EQ:

  • To motivate oneself and persist in the face of frustration;

  • To control impulse and delay gratification;

  • To regulate one’s moods and keep distress from swamping the ability to think.

When we employ the strategy of motivating ourselves and persisting in the face of frustration, we need to think and ask ourselves the following:

  • Responding with fear and anger is not always appropriate or necessary and does this situation require this type of response;
  • Stimuli are not always related to a tangible threat to self-esteem, dignity, ‘ face’ and/or personal safety and does this situation require this type of response;
  • Sometimes we become frustrated in the pursuit of goals, how can we remain motivated to move through the frustration, fear and/or anger while maintaining course?

To control our impulses and delay gratification, it is important to recognize when the alarms are going off. For example, think about a situation when you are driving and you see or hear about ‘road rage’ and how an individual has responded in a situation with aggressive and explosive behaviours.

Woman screaming in car with road rage

From the outside looking in, we will assume that the individual who ‘loses it’ on the road is not demonstrating a high level of functioning in the emotional brain in this situation.

Sometimes a residual bad day at work carries over to home and the drive between the two points can be stimulated by other areas of this person’s life. In these situations, and in this situation as an example, it is important to recognize when we are in a place where we become stimulated and how we feel.

Whether the feeling is immediate or occurs without us taking time before we respond, becoming aware of how we respond when we are stimulated in this way is the first step in controlling our impulses and delaying gratification.

The following reflection activity will help you to start to uncover your patterns of behaviour when you are emotionally stimulated:

EQ Reflection Activity

Please take a few moments to reflect on a situation where you responded by fight, flight or freeze. On the Right-Hand side of this handout, write down what was said in the situation. On the Left-Hand side of this handout, write down what you didn’t say in the situation. Then, answer the 6 accompanying questions below on the back of this handout.

Left Side                                                                                                                                                   Right Side









What was your intention? 

What were you thinking and feeling but didn’t say?

  1. Did you accomplish what you had intended?
  2. What did you do to contribute to making things worse?
  3. What could you have done differently?
  4. Is this a common pattern for you in conflict situations?
  5. Why didn’t you say what is on the Left-Hand side?

When we work to regulate our moods to keep distress from swamping our ability to think, it is important to:

  • Recognize when you are becoming increasingly frustrated and angry.
  • Think about how you change moods?
  • Think about what pattern of behaviour in your cycle of conflict may be in the situation?
  • Reflect on the EQ reflection activity and what you know to be true about how you respond to emotional stimulation.


To test your own level of Emotional Intelligence, you can click this link and take a quiz ‘How Emotionally Intelligent Are You?’.

How Emotionally Intelligent Are You?: Boosting Your People Skills. (2018). Retrieved 26 January 2018, from

The ‘Case of the Frozen Police Officer’ (2018) reading found at this link by the Hay Group provides an excellent example of how managing our emotional intelligence is crucial when we work with people. (2018). Retrieved 26 January 2018, from

Social Intelligence

Social Intelligence (SQ) is a concept that has emerged from Goleman’s earlier research and works about EQ. This concept applies to a number of leadership principles for groups and teams within organizations and is often referenced in many seminars and workshops relating to leadership, coaching and change.

Our level of Social Intelligence affects all areas of our lives, in particular, our professional aspects, and therefore, it is important to have a clear understanding of the elements of SQ and how SQ influences how we respond and engage with others in conflict and dispute situations.

Group of happy business people in a meeting at office

Goleman (2006) defines social intelligence as being one and of the same as emotional intelligence. Essentially:

‘all emotions are social’ (p. 83) and ‘you can’t separate the cause of an emotion from the world of relationships-our social interactions are what drive our emotions.’ (p. 83)

Goleman’s model of emotional intelligence is in all reality, blended in with the concept of social intelligence  and he goes on to further explore the ‘ingredients of social intelligence’ (p. 84) as being categorized into two schools of thought:

  • Social Awareness

  • Social Facility

Social awareness is ‘what we sense about others’ (p. 84) and refers to a spectrum of understanding that takes place simultaneously through our understanding our own inner feelings and instantaneously sensing the inner feelings of another. This process includes:

  • Primal empathy: Feeling with others; sensing nonverbal emotional signals.
  • Attunement: Listening with full receptivity; attuning to a person.
  • Empathic accuracy: Understanding another person’s thoughts, feelings and intentions.
  • Social cognition: Knowing how the social world works. (p. 84)

Social facility ‘builds on social awareness to allow smooth, effective interactions’ (p. 84) and like social awareness, includes a spectrum for understanding:

  • Synchrony: Interacting smoothly at the nonverbal level.
  • Self-presentation: Presenting ourselves effectively.
  • Influence: Shaping the outcome of social interactions.
  • Concern: Caring about others’ needs and acting accordingly. (p. 84)

Being that the field of Conflict Management is largely built upon the social interaction and the social conflict theories, it is important to understand the basic competencies of socially intelligent individuals to relate to how SQ influences the various processes and models in Conflict Management and Dispute Resolution.

In Goleman’s (2006) explanation of social competence, he explores the concept of empathy as empathy is a key component to our ability to connect with others in a social situation. Empathy is a vital ingredient in how effective Conflict Management and Dispute Resolution processes are and in essence, is the ‘deal breaker’ when it comes to working out problems for viable solutions.

To further explain empathy, Goleman (2006) categorizes the elements of empathy, as demonstrated through the actions of individuals with a high SQ, in the following:

  • Understanding Others
    • is attentive to emotional cues;
    • listens well;
    • shows sensitivity;
    • understands others’ perspectives;
    • helps out based on understanding other people’s needs and feelings.
  • Developing Others
    • acknowledges and rewards people’s strengths and accomplishments;
    • offers useful feedback;
    • identifies people’s needs for further growth;
    • mentors, give timely coaching and offer assignments that challenge and foster a person’s skills.
  • Service Orientation
    • understands clients needs and match them to services;
    • seeks ways to increase clients’ satisfaction;
    • gladly offers appropriate assistance;
    • grasps a client’s perspective;
    • acts as a trusted advisor.
  • Leveraging Diversity
    • respects and relates well to people from varied backgrounds;
    • understands diverse worldviews;
    • sensitive to group differences;
    • sees diversity as an opportunity;
    • creates an environment where diverse people can thrive;
    • challenges bias and intolerance.
  • Political Awareness
    • accurately reads key power relationships;
    • detects crucial social networks;
    • understands the forces that shape views and actions of clients;
    • accurately reads organizational and external realities.

The following video by Daniel Golemen (2006) provides an explanation of Social Intelligence:


Social Intelligence in Conflict Management and Dispute Resolution

A definition of conflict in the realm of both emotional and social intelligence is that conflict is the interaction of interdependent people who perceive incompatibility and the possibility of interference from others because of this incompatibility.

The three key elements are:

  • ‘interaction’

  • perceived ‘incompatibility’

  • incentives for cooperation with ‘interdependence’

With the interaction, conflicts are constituted and sustained by the behaviours of the parties involved and their reactions to one another and are based on both verbal and non-verbal interaction.

People in conflict generally perceive incompatibility with others and this incompatibility may prompt others to interfere with their own desires, goals, personal comforts or communication preferences. The key word here is ‘perceive’ because, regardless of whether or not incompatibility actually exists, if the parties believe incompatibility exists, then conditions are ripe for conflict.

Communication problems can be an important source of incompatibility among people and groups/ teams and conflict can result from misunderstandings that occur when people have different communication styles. Communication about expectations of individuals, groups or teams and roles and level of engagement can also stimulate undercurrents of conflict.

It is interesting because a common concept that is overlooked in social situations is that conflict interaction is coloured by the interdependence of the parties. Interdependence determines parties’ incentives in the conflict because there is an incentive to cooperate when the parties perceive that gains by one will promote gains by the other or losses for one party will result in corresponding losses for the other.

There is an incentive to compete when parties believe that one’s gain will be the other’s loss and in most situations, there is a mixture of incentives to cooperate and to compete.

It is important to note that the greater the interdependence among people, the more significant the consequences of their behaviours are for each other and when parties are interdependent, they can potentially aid or interfere with each other.

Parties know about their respective abilities to cooperate or to complete, and their interpretations of each others’ communication and actions shape how the conflict develops.

In some situations, one party may believe that having his or her point accepted is more important, at least for the moment, than proposing a mutually beneficial outcome. This can be a demonstrated form of competition among teams and groups.

We have developed the idea that conflicts are best understood if we view them as a form of interaction. During an interaction, there are a number of complex processes that occur simultaneously.

Top image of a diamond highway with cars driving on it

For this purpose, it is important to focus on:

  • Differentiation

  • Integration


In differentiation, parties raise the conflict issues and spend sufficient time and energy clarifying positions, pursuing the reasons behind those positions and acknowledging the severity of their differences. Escalation occurs in differentiation and conflicts often manifest themselves into disputes.

Differentiation phases of conflicts are often difficult because of the seemingly unbridgeable differences that emerge and the intense negative feelings that often accompany them.

The combination of hostility and irreconcilable positions may lead to behaviour that spurs uncontrolled, hostile escalation into a destructive conflict. Sometimes this has not yet emerged because parties believe they are better off to ‘sit on’ and suppress the conflict, which then festers and undermines their relationship.

Although differentiation is necessary for constructive conflict resolution, it can also nourish destructive tendencies as this phase may surface disagreements that parties previously feared or were not motivated to deal with. In some cases, differentiation can spiral out of control to hostile, confrontational and hurtful episodes of conflict cycling.

Although parties sometimes fall prey to the dangers of differentiation, they can also fall victim to an overly zealous attempt to avoid these dangers. When parties try hard to avoid issues, they may never realize their own potential for finding creative solutions to important problems.

The anxiety-producing nature of differentiation gives rise to a set of possible behaviours, which can lead to either avoidance or radical escalation. The most direct link between the stress of differentiation and either avoidance or escalation is the tendency for people to cling inflexibly to patterns of interaction that occur during differentiation and become rigid in their positions.


Integration occurs at the point where the parties recognize that further escalation from differentiation seems fruitless and unnecessary and they begin to acknowledge common ground, explore possible options and move toward some solution. In the event that integration is not completely successful, the conflict may cycle back through a new differentiation phase.

The key to effective Conflict Management is to achieve the benefits of differentiation through a clear understanding of the differences, acceptance of others’ positions as legitimate (but not necessarily agreeing with them), and motivation to work on the conflict and to make a clean transition to integration.

Making the transition from differentiation to integration is not always easy and the transition requires parties to make a fundamental change in the direction of the conflict, turning it from a focus on differences (often accompanied by intense emotions and a desire to defeat each other) to negotiation and cooperative work.

It is in these trying times that it is important to acknowledge and operationalize the concepts and competencies of emotional intelligence and social intelligence together.


Conflict Management and Dispute Resolution are directly influenced by both Emotional Intelligence (EQ) and Social Intelligence (SQ). The processes and models discussed in this course are best understood from both the social theories as well as the psychological theories and ultimately the interaction of the two schools of thought.  and the psychological schools of thought.

Emotional Intelligence and Social Intelligence directly relates to how you manage conflict and how you play out your conflict management styles. Both of these concepts also relate to how you engage in conflict and dispute activity.   

Thank you for reading my post.

Until next time,


Keep Your Conversations Forward Moving

If mastering the science of conflict management is a goal you have for yourself in 2018, complete your FREE professional conflict management assessment to learn how to pro-manage conflict at work. Knowing your style is an important first step to working through conflict situations and finding solutions. Backed with testing in 16+ years of training events, our assessment is designed to provide you with options to prepare for your next journey into a difficult conversation. Get your personalized Conflict Management Assessment at Peak Conflict Solutions.

Want more? Read ‘Dispute Resolution at Work’.

Interested in mastering conflict management skills? Start by reading ‘How to Focus on the Behaviour and Not the Person in Conflict Management’.


Emotional Intelligence by Daniel Goleman (1995), Working with Emotional Intelligence by Daniel Goleman (1998)

Social Intelligence by Daniel Goleman (2006), Beyond IQ, Beyond Emotional Intelligence. Bantam Press, New York, NY.

About The Author

Suzanne Marie

Living life to its fullest. Building mighty communities through connection, belonging, security, and love. I am founder and CEO at Peak Conflict Solutions and my purpose in life is to show your workplace how to set the tone for connection, belonging, and security while creating space for conflict management.


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