The importance of affectivity in conflicts

The importance of affectivity in conflicts

One of the definitions of affectivity says that it is a sum of subjective mental experiences - emotions, moods, feelings and passions - that reflect man's relationship with the surrounding world and that give color, substance of everything we think and do.

Affectivity is a basic component of the human psyche, and there is practically no psychological process (memory, sensation, thought, motivation) that is not closely linked to an affective experience or vice versa. We could say that inner mental processes as well as behaviors are determined by affective experiences and/or trigger emotions, feelings, moods or passions.

Affections (the way we feel and experience ourselves) often come together with a strong need to express emotional charge outwardly. Sometimes through words, but also through tone of voice, different gestures, body postures or facial grimaces. At other times, they show up in the way our body functions (we blush, our mouth dries up, our breathing and heart rate increases, our knees "go weak", etc.). At the same time, these same emotions "need" to be approved, listened to, understood and even liked, loved and sympathised with by the person we are talking to.

Some peculiarities of affective processes would be:

  • polarity (they are either positive/pleasant or negative/unpleasant);
  • mobility (refers to the ability of the human being to move from one affective state to another, or from one level of intensity to another);
  • duration (over time);
  • intensity;
  • their motivational value (doing something for someone out of love, for example).

The sphere of human affectivity is very varied. However, we find the following as forms of affectivity: emotions, dispositions, feelings and passions.

Emotions are short-lived affective experiences, generally of high but variable intensity, and usually arise in response to things or thoughts we experience. It's also worth noting that sometimes some emotions, specifically horror, anger, despair and explosive joy, are experienced extremely intensely. They are also called shock emotions precisely because, when we experience them, they tend to take over our whole being, escaping our conscious control, and under their influence, people most often commit reckless acts.

Moods, on the other hand, are affective experiences of lower intensity, more diffuse and generalised, which may last for a longer time (hours, days). When we are in a good mood we tend to enjoy ourselves more often, more, whereas when we are in a bad mood nothing seems to go our way and we easily find reasons for quarrelling and discontent.

When it comes to feelings, then it is good to know that these are (more) complex affective experiences - because other mental processes are involved in their maintenance and manifestation. They have a long duration (years, a lifetime), moderate intensity and high stability. They evolve from emotions through repetition and crystallisation, which is why they are sometimes called by the same name (hate, love), but the mechanism of their formation is that, for example, the emotion of repeated and stabilised falling in love (at the sight of the same loved one) gives rise, through crystallisation, to the feeling of love, which is then maintained voluntarily and consciously. Lastly, passions are very intense, very long-lasting (a lifetime), very stable affective experiences that involve the whole of a person's personality. Not infrequently it is said that passions 'master' man. They mobilize all of man's energy to satisfy them. Some passions are noble and constructive while others are negative (passions, vices).


The role of affectivity in human activity is to put man in tune with the situation, to regulate and adapt human conduct to the interaction with the environment, but also to express the individual's needs, wants or to energetically support various actions ( behaviors).

According to Ana Stoica-Constantin (2004), affective processes associated with conflicts can have several functions:

  1. Affectivity can become the cause of conflict - anger, dissatisfaction, injustice, frustration, can manifest themselves in the form of accusations, attacks directed at others, whether or not there is anything concrete to argue about. Just the simple negative emotions that one party feels are sometimes enough to spark an argument.
  2. As we saw above, our emotional states can energetically sustain our activities. People do all sorts of things driven by their feelings. They can fuel stubbornness, strength, courage, so that one can persist in conflict or, conversely, rush to resolve it.
  3. Our emotions can also be a mechanism for extinguishing conflict. Sometimes we feel good, liberated, when we say our anger, when we "vent our anger". The feeling of satisfaction that we have said what we had to say can extinguish conflict. But conflict can also be extinguished if we positively reward (with a smile, a gesture, or a warmer tone of voice) the positive feelings of the other participant in the conflict.
  4. Our emotional feelings can also be an indicator or a symptom of either an inner conflict or of the conflict experienced perhaps by the partner. Any conflict (internal or external) provokes different emotions in those involved, and having these emotions present is an indication that the person is experiencing a conflict.
  5. Another function of affective processes in conflict is to indicate the importance of what is being discussed to those involved. We have a natural and normal tendency to become emotionally involved when we are confronted with important things, and the greater the importance, the greater the intensity of emotions.


One can intuit that conflicts involve all kinds of emotions, both positive and negative.

Negative emotions (distrust, anger, fear, shame, etc.), especially if they are unknown, unheard, not validated by the other side (which can cause offence), can lead to deadlocks in reconciliation even if the problem has a solution, with the other side continually refusing any proposal.

Similarly, the negative feelings felt by one of the parties can lead to endless conflicts when they feel that their values (identity, principles) are being attacked, or if the person's immediate interests are being attacked, negative emotions are likely to provoke very virulent reactions.

Positive emotional experiences, on the other hand, influence conflicts to be resolved more easily and quickly. Good mood implies lack of aggression leading to cooperative attitudes between parties. Positivity also implies resourcefulness, respect, increased willingness to reach agreement and a desire for quick resolution.

Although we have shown so far how important the role of emotions is in conflict, they are also neglected in the literature and by those who train people in the management of conflicts and even by negotiators. This is for several reasons: the focus is often on the concrete, pragmatic aspect (interest) of the negotiation, because resolving it means defusing the conflict; acknowledging emotions is also avoided out of the belief that they make people vulnerable; or simply because they are difficult to manage.

a) Anger - is a natural state of extreme irritation, in which self-control (conscious control) is usually lost, which occurs instantaneously (in case of threats, frustration or unfulfillment) and is manifested by expressive facial, nonverbal and behavioral (gestural) activation.

b) Fear - is a strong emotional reaction (some argue - and rightly so - that it is a survival mechanism) that occurs as a human response to a concrete threat, usually negative and unexpected (surprising). It differs from fear (which occurs when the danger is known and anticipated) but also from anxiety (which does not identify the danger but suspects it).

Fear is important in conflicts because it can trigger irrational, disturbing, dangerous, extreme behaviors that can result in conflict escalation.

Managing one's own fear or anger is done first by acknowledging them, then by identifying the ways in which one's own fear or anger is expressed verbally, behaviorally and physiologically and striving to avoid these manifestations. It is desirable to recognize those situations that generate fear or anger and avoid them as much as possible. It is also good to practice behavioral techniques to reduce fear, anger or stress.

c) Guilt and shame - these are two distinct emotional feelings, but they often go together as guilt causes shame. Guilt can have real causes (when the person's behavior violates norms, laws, rules, principles) or imaginary causes (when the individual believes he/she should or should not have...). Shame, on the other hand, is the painful feeling of shyness, of embarrassment caused by a failure or a mistake, thus a strong emotion arising from the awareness of guilt or from the incorrectness or the failure to keep one's word.

Both emotions are important in resolving and preventing, but also in creating conflict. Guilt, when it occurs, can prevent conflict from arising. We treat others as we would like to be treated (according to our own moral values). So we are most likely to avoid doing something inappropriate (at odds with what we think is moral) in order to avoid feeling guilty afterwards. If, however, the conflict is already in full swing the two emotions, guilt and shame behave differently. Guilt can lead to an attitude (on the part of the party feeling it) of cooperation and dedication to the quick resolution of the disagreement, while shame has the opposite effect - the person tends to run away, to withdraw from the interaction, to avoid others. In conclusion, shame is more likely to provoke conflict and guilt to help resolve it.

d) Humiliation - when we talk about humiliation we are really talking about two things: once about the act of humiliation (which happens in the interaction between a humbler and a humiliated) and then about the emotion or feeling of humiliation - as what the subject feels as a result of the act of humiliation. A very important point here is that humiliation can be preceded by the strong fear of not being humiliated. This fear is so strong that sometimes people prefer death to humiliation (e.g. samurai would perform sepuku rather than be caught by the enemy). Humiliation as a state (emotion) is so strong that it is considered to create a deep psychological wound in a person, directly targeting personal identity. The human being is devalued and degraded, put on a lower rung than he should be against his will. Humiliation is clearly different from shame (which is easier to accept because it is less intense and does not attack personal identity), it is different from guilt, embarrassment, effrontery and humiliation (which is voluntary humility, not forced).

The response to the act of humiliation can be lack of change (especially in cases when the humiliated develops depression), violent change (in the sense of overturning the humiliator-humiliated situation) or non-violent change (if the humiliated manages to forgive his oppressor). In general, however, humiliation provokes an increase in conflict and a desire for revenge precisely because of the violence and the depth of the emotion.

e) Respect - is an attitude or feeling of esteem, consideration or special esteem for someone, of recognition of that person's worth. When we respect someone we take their feelings, needs, thoughts, ideas, desires seriously. Respect can not only be felt but also shown. Of course, we can display behaviors that give the illusion that we respect, but if we feel respect, then pleasing behavior will come naturally.

f) Acknowledgement - here, acknowledgement, does not have the sense of admitting any guilt, but rather refers to the personal ability to accept the other as my equal, with legitimate rights and concerns. It refers rather to what we offer, not what we receive.

Updated on 2/6/23, 10:21 AM