Anytime you experience a setback that increases your stress, anger or anxiety, the ability for your brain to function optimally is at risk. That’s not only bad for you—packing around unsolved issues can have a significant impact on personal and workplace relationships.
My philosophy is simple: deal with it or park it. If you aren’t willing to deal with it (on your own or with support), then park it. Let it go fully and move on. Your inner voice might tempt you to do otherwise. It may ask, “Isn’t it easier to just NOT deal with it, or wait until later to deal with it?”
Let’s say for a moment you decide to hang out in the void between dealing with it or moving on. You ruminate on what you could say, or think of all the things that upset you. For most people, this causes even more angst and increases stress levels. Ongoing stress is bad for the body, and it is like chemical warfare for the brain. Left unchecked, it will ravage brain cells and increase the likelihood of cognitive disease.
But it’s not just your health that is under attack. Stress impairs learning and your ability to perform and think. And chronic stress can become a self-perpetuating cycle in which your brain wires itself to act stressfully. Once you are in the habit of being stressed, the neural pathways in your brain become hardwired for that response.
If you want to avoid all of the downsides that come from holding on to unresolved conflict, you have two choices:
As the saying goes, you need to pick your battles. Is this something you could let go? I mean really let go. If so, that might be the ideal outcome. Usually with a bit of time and distance, and some time for our emotional brain to simmer down, things don’t seem as problematic as they once did.
To get there, distance yourself from the negative emotions the unresolved conflict is causing. Practice mindful breathing. Focus on your breath and let all of your thoughts go. If you have trouble with overthinking, try counting aloud or silently to yourself. When you focus on something else, breathing or counting, there is less room to ruminate on the unresolved conflicts that cause stress.
After that, put it in perspective. List all of the things in your life (work or personal) that you appreciate, down to the simplest things. When we practice gratitude, we are forced to see things more optimistically. At this point, you are well on your way to letting it go. Unless, of course…you’re not.
If after trying those exercises, you realize that you still can’t let it go, it’s time for you to deal with it.
DEAL WITH IT
In those times when you just can’t let it go, your brain will thank you if you summon the courage to deal with it. Yes, it can be scary to deal with difficult situations. But emotional intelligence is here to help.
Emotional intelligence is the source of all good and bad interpersonal communication. Those with high emotional intelligence have the ability to understand their emotions, and how to approach a difficult conversation in a way that will support an outcome where both people feel valued and understood. Those with low emotional intelligence lack the self-awareness to understand their own emotions and needs, and how to approach another person to resolve conflict. Having the courage and ability to tackle difficult conversations effectively is an indication of an emotionally intelligent leader.
You might be surprised to learn that emotional intelligence isn’t something we're born with...it's something we can learn. And it gets better with practice and age!
Building up your emotional intelligence skillset is not as hard as you might think—if you break it down into steps. Using a structured model like this allows you to evaluate the situation and minimize the emotion, judgment, and misconceptions that often derail communication. 
THE BOTTOM LINE
Let’s face it: holding on to issues is exhausting. Using the tools of mindfulness and emotional intelligence, you can be the type of leader who is able to ‘deal with it or park it’ and not let past experiences interfere with current or future ones.
About the Author
Sandra McDowell, MA, PCC, CPHR, SHRM-SCP
As the founder and voice behind eLeadership Academy™, Sandra McDowell helps leaders and organizations increase performance and well-being by leveraging neuroscience insights to harness the untapped power of the brain.