Thriving Together Series

Thriving Together Series: How Sophrology Can Help Us Manage Workplace Conflict


By: Ayce Bukulmeyen Ozerdem, Well-Being Program Specialist, Center for the Advancement of Well-Being

“Conflict is the arrow pointing to what we need to learn the most.” – Kenneth Cloke, international mediator

Unhealthy work conditions like workplace conflict can create enormous human and financial costs. American businesses lose $359 billion dollars yearly due to unresolved conflict and low productivity, research highlighted in this article shows. The physical, emotional, psychological, and interpersonal tolls on people’s well-being are incalculable. When we encounter conflict in our workplaces, however, we can use a powerful well-being practice to manage it well. Sophrology – a dynamic relaxation method for both the body and the mind – can help us manage workplace conflict so the conflict won’t harm our well-being.

How Workplace Conflict Affects Well-Being

While a conflict may be justified, the challenge lies in finding a fair resolution. The way in which work colleagues experience and resolve conflict can affect the well-being of those involved.

Many workplaces try to maintain a professional environment by avoiding conflicts, being hesitant to admit errors, and refraining from taking risks. Conversations are stilted and limited. There is a lack of openness and trust, which leads to confusion, grievances, and a feeling that employees lack control. This is unhealthy for everyone.

Employers should establish trust and openness for a better workplace culture, cost savings, employee engagement, and productivity. In order to create a courageous environment where people can speak out about what’s right, people must learn how to debate conflicts with respect for each other. Clear communication is crucial for mental and physical well-being, navigating organizational stress, and maintaining good mental health.

It is evident that employee health affects productivity. Constant worry and stress in the workplace can lead to unproductive workdays. In a study by the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, 56 percent of employees reported that their anxiety and stress affected their work performance. This can impair their ability to communicate effectively, empathize with others, and resolve conflicts.

Why an Awareness of Biology is Key to Resolving Conflict

Our biology is the reason why the stress of conflict can harm our well-being. When a person is stuck in a dispute for weeks, months, or even years, the constant fight-flight-freeze response can lead to exhaustion. Conflict triggers the stress hormones adrenaline and cortisol. The production of adrenaline and cortisol during this enduring situation might put the person’s mental health at risk. Adrenaline ramps up and diminishes quickly, but cortisol uses a different, slower pathway in the body — through the bloodstream rather than the nervous system. Cortisol is a hormone that affects our judgment subtly, often without us even realizing it. People experiencing high cortisol levels perceive their opponents as angrier and more threatening than they appear to those with lower stress levels. A person with high cortisol levels often struggles to see other people’s perspectives. These changes usually happen without us being aware of them.

Emotions are critical factors in achieving constructive conflict resolution. Maintaining composure, despite heightened emotions, is crucial to a successful resolution. We must master our minds and emotions to remain calm during conflicts and prevent escalation. International mediator and negotiator William Ury says that during times of conflict, the person we need to deal with is not the person on the other side of the table. It is the person on this side of the table. It is the person we look at in the mirror every morning: ourselves.

He recommends not reacting, but rather responding, through a strategy he calls going to the balcony. He says when arguments escalate, we can visualize a mental and emotional balcony – a place of calm, perspective, and self-control where we can stay focused on our interests and remind ourselves of our guiding questions and why we are working to resolve the conflict. It should be a priority to work on mastering our minds and learning special techniques for releasing anxiety, overcoming negative talk, and being able to go to the balcony when needed.

It is vital to have a program of activities that prioritizes staff health and well-being to improve the social skills for dealing with stress and anxiety well. When businesses prioritize empowering employees, they foster cohesive teams that are more invested in their work and the company’s values, leading to excellent retention rates. So, how do we do that?

Again, our biology is the key.

We have two different nervous systems in our bodies. One is for stress, and one is for the calming response. The sympathetic nervous system is our survival mode, and the parasympathetic nervous system is for relaxation, restoration, rest, and good digestion. We need to learn how to activate and strengthen the parasympathetic nervous system consciously to activate a calming response within us. For that, we need to engage with our bodies more. How do we do that?

How Sophrology Can Help Us Manage Conflict Well

Sophrology is a straightforward, practical, and powerful approach with many benefits. The main goal of sophrology is to engage more with our bodies rather than our minds.

It is a well-being method based on dynamic relaxation, deliberate breathing techniques, gentle movements, meditation, and visualization to balance the mind and body and feel empowered. Widely used throughout Europe since it began 60 years ago, sophrology is now becoming increasingly popular in the United States. It has earned its reputation as a powerful method for reducing stress and anxiety, solving sleep problems, healing self-esteem issues, and managing pain. This complementary therapy, which combines the best of Eastern mindfulness techniques and Western relaxation exercises, has been widely researched and proven to have a significant impact on improving well-being related to these issues and conditions.

Research from Kent University indicates the benefits to be gained from offering sophrology sessions to employees – even during the most difficult circumstances, such as intervention – show that sophrology can still have a positive impact on employees’ physical and mental health.

In order to manage conflict well, we need to manage ourselves well. We have many built-in and fast-reacting mechanisms within the brain. They have kept us safe for thousands of generations. While they still have great value sometimes, they can also cause us considerable mental and physical harm when operating inappropriately. Learning conflict resolution or dispute prevention techniques will not be helpful if we can’t also master our biological impulses. Effective conflict-dispute resolution techniques must involve robust biological-mental management techniques. We need to be familiar with our stressors and triggers and work to manage them for our own good.

Techniques such as sophrology teach resilience and adaptability skills, which promote thriving – not just survival and coping mechanisms.

Additional Resources

Learn more about sophrology research, and participate in Mason’s sophrology programs, by visiting this sophrology page for faculty and staff and this sophrology page for students.

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