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Social Sensitivity: How to Handle Conflict at Work 

The holidays are here, and while everyone’s looking forward to deliciously festive food and spending time with loved ones we haven’t seen in a while, we know that now more than ever, conversations around the dinner table can get heated. But the challenges don’t stop there. 

Even traveling to our holiday destinations can be tumultuous. This year, the Federal Aviation Administration has already recorded over 5,000 unruly passenger reports. Many people are choosing to drive to their destinations rather than fly in an effort to avoid all the drama. 

We could all use a little social sensitivity. Whether it’s overcoming conflicts at work, home, the airport, or even at the poker table, learning to be sensitive to other people’s behavior, discovering how to read their tells, and then being able to respond with empathy and understanding is the key to successful conflict resolution, especially conflict resolutions at work.

But just what exactly is social sensitivity, and how can it help you overcome conflict with co-workers, family members, and even the general public? 

What is social sensitivity?

Social sensitivity is a term used to describe a person’s ability to listen, understand, and respect the views and feelings of others. Recognizing social cues, such as eye contact, body language, and tone of voice, is also part of being socially sensitive. Social sensitivity is not only allowing room for someone else’s differing experiences and opinions but responding with empathy and understanding. 

It’s about finding common ground and showing mutual respect, two important areas to focus on especially when understanding how to handle conflicts at work.

Someone who is socially sensitive is able to read the cues and respond in an emotionally intelligent way. If your co-worker is stressed and overworked, they might be curt when delivering feedback. You could help de-escalate the situation by offering them assistance. If your roommate received a low test score after a long night of studying, they could be frustrated and unwilling to help out with chores. Giving them a pass could make all the difference.

Sometimes social sensitivity is as simple as taking a breath and counting to five before you respond. It’s about being mindful and making the time to think about what you want to say and then speaking confidently from a place of understanding.

For example, a person who continually dominates a conversation by talking only about themselves would exhibit a low level of social sensitivity. A person with high social sensitivity listens intently, waits for the other person to finish speaking, looks for cues that they are waiting for a response, and then replies empathetically. 

Having a high level of social sensitivity and empathy can make you more successful when preparing deal with conflict at work. A study conducted by Development Dimension International found that empathy is the greatest single leadership skill a manager can possess. People who regularly display social sensitivity are better communicators, have more close friends, more career advancement opportunities, and generally experience higher levels of happiness. These individuals understand how to overcome conflicts at work. 

How critical thinking enhances social sensitivity

We talk a lot here at Poker Power about the importance of critical-thinking skills and how learning to play poker enhances those skills. Critical thinking is the ability to analyze all of the available facts and opinions about a particular subject before forming a thoughtful response.

Social sensitivity and critical thinking are very similar concepts, as both involve problem-solving. At the poker table, you have many problems to solve in a short period of time. You must observe your opponents, study your hand, and analyze everyone else’s hand all at the same time. Seeing how others are behaving and responding ultimately determines your response. If you want to win, you have to learn to pay close attention to other people, and you have to practice critical thinking.

The more you practice critical thinking, the more socially sensitive you will become. And if you really want to get better at both, learn how to play poker

How to read people’s tells 

There are several classic tells in the game of poker. Tells are physical or verbal cues that communicate either the strength or weakness of a player’s hand. For example, if a player has a really good hand, they might suddenly sit straight up or their hand might start to shake a little. If they have a bad hand and are bluffing, they might get very still and rigid, or start blinking a lot.

All people have tells and not just at the poker table. A stressed co-worker might rub his head often during staff meetings. An overworked flight attendant might avoid eye contact. A worried parent might look down at their cell phone several times while at dinner with friends. A child might lash out at their parents over homework because of learning difficulties. Everyone has a tell or two, and the more you observe other people’s, the easier it will be for you to figure out your own.

The key to learning people’s tells is to start paying attention and becoming more socially sensitive. Start noticing when people are uncomfortable, stressed, nervous, or sad. What do they do? The more you practice social sensitivity, the easier it will be for you to pick up on people’s cues — both verbal and nonverbal. Then you will be in a better position to respond with true empathy and understanding.

The whole point of social awareness and proactive conflict resolution is to find common ground. You want to demonstrate to the other person that you hear them, understand them, and acknowledge their feelings are valid, all of which are key to proactive conflict resolution.

By gaining confidence in our communication skills using empathy, understanding, and respect for others, we can raise the collective intelligence and social sensitivity of those around us, perhaps even those around our holiday dinner table. And wouldn’t that make for a joyous occasion?

Want to improve your social sensitivity and critical-thinking skills, while better preparing for handling conflict? Sign up for our corporate workshops, and advance your career through the power of poker.

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