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Does Gratitude Play a Role in Managing Conflict?

I was asked this question while facilitating one of our conflict management programs. Knowing the link between gratitude and pro-social behaviors, and the need to consider another person’s perspective, a deeper discussion ensued. I believe gratitude does play a role. This question however, led us to examine research that supports or disputes this concept and under what circumstances.

It may be helpful to give context to the term conflict management through the framework of the Conflict Dynamics Profile (CDP). Developed by Eckerd College for the Mediation Training Institute, the CDP is a validated assessment providing individuals and teams with an understanding of how they respond to conflict. The profile assesses behavioral responses to provocation in several ways:

  • A precipitating event and/or Hot Buttons that initiate conflict;
  • Active and Passive Constructive Responses that de-escalate conflict (not all conflict is bad);
  • Active and Passive Destructive Responses that escalate a conflict, leading to harmful effects, loss of productivity, and extremely high costs to an organization.

As we began to research the role gratitude plays in managing conflict, we came across a variety of studies, articles, and opinions, highlighting important cultural and organizational challenges. Below is a selection of findings that reveal and emphasize the need to raise awareness about the role gratitude plays in conflict and as a component of conflict management training.

Disruptive Behaviors – a known threat to the quality of care, nurse retention, and a culture of safety.

  • A qualitative study on Hospital RN’s Experiences with Disruptive Behaviors refers to themes of workplace incivility and psychological aggression. It comes as no surprise, these themes are a representation of all 8 Active and Passive Destructive behaviors measured by the CDP: displaying anger; demeaning others; retaliating; winning at all costs; avoiding; yielding; hiding emotions, self-criticizing.
    • Recommendations:
      • Develop conflict management skills at every level of your organization.
      • Translate the latest research on gratitude in support of personal leadership development and improved employee satisfaction.


  • Another important study highlighting the positive impact of gratitude is from the International Journal of Workplace Health Management, Vol. 2 Iss: 3, pp.202 – 219, Virtues, Work Satisfaction and Psychological Wellbeing Among Nurses. This study showed that gratitude was found to be a consistent predictor of several outcomes:
    • less exhaustion and less cynicism;
    • more proactive behaviors;
    • higher rating of the health and safety climate;
    • higher job satisfaction;
    • fewer absences due to illness.


Unconscious Biases – a known threat to diversity, recruitment, retention, and a detriment to a positive and healthy work environment.

  • Recent attention given to unconscious biases, in particular, perception bias and confirmation bias, are precursors to conflict.
    • Perception bias of stereotypes – millennial’s, women, minorities, etc.
    • Confirmation bias of deeply rooted beliefs and assumptions.

One wonders how different the Starbucks provocation could have turned out had more Constructive Responses [perspective taking, creating solutions, delayed responding, and adapting] been used.

  • Recommendations:
    • Offer conflict management skills training at every level of your organization.
    • Include training in unconscious biases to minimize the effects in your organization.
    • Translate the latest research on gratitude and include in leadership development and culture change initiatives in your organization.


Negotiations – a way of life and a known source of conflict, whether asking your boss for a raise or negotiating funding dollars for cancer research.

  • Several studies from Georgetown University, the University of Toronto, and Harvard Business School, Expressing Gratitude Invites Exploitation by Competitors, suggests that expressing gratitude during purely competitive negotiations leads to exploitation. In this work, individuals saw their grateful counterparts as forgiving, nice, and polite and subsequently exploited them for selfish gain.

Incivility and Aggressive Behaviors – seemingly a daily occurrence in every business sector, every profession.

  • An article in Medical News Today – Gratitude as an Antidote to Aggression, highlights five studies done at the University of Kentucky on the hypothesis that gratitude is linked to lower aggression and motivates future behaviors. If true, then future behaviors could lead to more Constructive Responses when managing and de-escalating conflict.
  • Another study found expressions of gratitude helped initiate and maintain pro-social behaviors. This gives promise to the role of gratitude in decreasing precipitating events, neutralizing conflict, and possibly reducing the occurrences of destructive conflict interactions.


Neuroscience and Conflict – many organizations suffer from poor conflict management skills or none at all! Furthermore, research on the correlates of neuroscience and gratitude support the cultivation of a positive and healthy work environment.

  • Numerous studies using neuroimaging has shown gratitude as a complex emotion, activating numerous regions of the brain. In one study, Neural Correlates of Gratitude, the activated regions involved moral cognition, fairness, connecting with others, and taking their perspective. Similarly, these active regions represent many Active and Passive Constructive behaviors measured by the CDP including perspective-taking; creating solutions; reaching out, reflective thinking; delayed responding; adapting.
  • Neurologically, we simply cannot be grateful and angry at the same time! Because those two emotions are mutually exclusive and cannot co-exist in the brain at the same time. From the research in neuroscience, we understand our brain has two organizing principles, threat or reward. So, how we speak to each other or look at each other (mirror neurons) activates the threat or reward centers of the brain. Combining what we know about Constructive and Destructive Responses and the latest evidence in neuroscience will greatly improve our work environment and team relationships.


If you want to know more about the research on gratitude and conflict management give us a call at 410-750-8335 or email lburton@drwcoaching.com

DRW coaches are certified in the CDP assessment and can facilitate training programs for your organization. Are you interested in calculating the financial costs of conflict in your organization or measuring the effectiveness of your current conflict resolution strategies? We can help!

To learn more about DRW’s gratitude programs, click here

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With gratitude,





Photos courtesy of Unsplash 

CDP Constructive Responses ~ Active and Passive CDP Destructive Responses ~ Active and Passive
·       Perspective Taking ·       Winning at all Costs
·       Creating Solutions ·       Displaying Anger
·       Expressing Emotions ·       Demeaning Others
·       Reaching Out ·       Retaliating
·       Reflective Thinking ·       Avoiding
·       Delay Responding ·       Yielding
·       Adapting ·       Hiding Emotions
·       Self-Criticizing


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