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The Role of Fear in Conflict Resolution

By Daniel Bobinski

Think about some of the disagreements you’ve had with people. They can be tough to deal with, can’t they? Quite often when people have an opinion about something, they dig in their heels and don’t let go. This applies to everyone! Sometimes people dig in because they’re confident they’re right. Other times, people dig in because they’re afraid. Nobody likes to admit it, but yes, our fears can inhibit our relationships.

Last month, I talked about how emotions get formed and the impact they have on our thinking. This month, I want to address the emotion of fear and how it gets in the way of resolving conflict.

Five Universal Fears

Everyone has fears, but below are five that get in the way of conflict resolution.

Fear of criticism. Sometimes we know we need constructive feedback so we can learn where or how to improve, but even then, most people only endure it. It’s kind of like going to the dentist. We know the result will be good for us, but we still don’t like the process. If criticism is unsolicited, it can sting pretty bad.

Fear of failure. When we place too much weight on what others think of us, or if we’re worried others will lose interest in us if we fail, we can become terrified of failure. This can be especially true when we’re in a conflict with someone, we don’t want to appear as though we lost an argument.

Fear of rejection. Human beings are wired to belong. If we feel like people will reject us for disagreeing with them, it can inhibit good conflict resolution skills.

Fear of not getting what you want. Oftentimes people do not move forward on something because they’re afraid the outcome won’t be what they expect. It’s different from fear of failure, but again, the fear can be so strong that a person doesn’t even try.

Fear of losing what you have. Maybe you have something of value, whether it’s a position or a thing. If you’re afraid of losing it, it can prevent you from trying to resolve conflict.

Being aware of our fears and how they impact and/or inhibit us is part of good self-awareness, which is the starting point for developing emotional intelligence. Then, knowing how fears impact and/or inhibit others is part of good social awareness, again, a key component in emotional intelligence.

When we have disagreements with others and each person is trying to be heard and understood, we can practice emotional intelligence by taking these likely fears into account and working to minimize them. If you’re interested, I’ve created a short instructional video on conflict resolution. If you take a few minutes to watch this video, you’ll learn some useful techniques for minimizing fears, and also the five steps I recommend for resolving conflict in a calm, productive way.


Daniel Bobinski, M.Ed. is a best-selling author and a popular speaker at conferences and retreats. For more than 30 years he’s been working with teams and individuals (1:1 coaching) to help them achieve excellence. He was also teaching Emotional Intelligence since before it was a thing. Reach him on his office phone at 208-375-7606 or through his website www.MyWorkplaceExcellence.com.

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