Conflict Can Be Productive

Joe Weinlick
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According to leadership expert Roger Dean Duncan, "Conflict is inevitable. Combat is optional." Take this motto to heart as you deal with people on your team who have differences of opinion. Rather than getting into a heated debate that spirals out of control, turn arguments into productive conflict. Duncan touts a book published in 2017 called "The Conflict Resolution Phrase Book" for helpful strategies.

The book outlines ways you can have an honest dialogue with co-workers by turning challenging conversations and emotional discussions into productive conflict. People may forgo having open, honest discussions for a variety of reasons.

Why Are People Bad at Having Honest Dialogue?

The book's authors say that solving problems takes time and effort. For many managers, CEOs and business owners, it's just easier to react to people's emotions and move forward from there by giving a simple explanation to complicated conundrums.

The solution to this difficulty is to understand the heart of the problem. Productive conflict means you take the time to listen, fully investigate a problem, and then correct the issue. The further into the future you delay this resolution, the harder it becomes to solve because the problem is not as fresh on people's minds.

As an example, a customer's food order turns out wrong. Rather than examine the problem from start to finish, a restaurant manager simply makes up for it by giving the person a free meal. The freebie doesn't discover the problem; it just delays the issue from happening again. Making a customer happy is only half of the solution, because the manager has to prevent the difficulty from occurring again.

What Should You Say During Productive Conflict?

The first thing you should do during a tense conversation is to admit there's a problem and you plan to solve it. Admit that emotions are involved in this problem and people feel frustrated, angry and upset. Acknowledge that different viewpoints come into play with productive conflict. Rather than dismiss certain views, everyone should hear other people's ideas.

How Do You Get to the Heart of a Problem?

Ask questions to get the conversation rolling. Say to the people who brought up the issue, "Let's talk about this issue now. If not, is later today good for you?" Have the other person explain the problem from start to finish without interrupting the story. Obtain as much information as possible so you can make an informed decision as to how to proceed.

How Do You Actively Listen?

Active listening is crucial to finding out more information. If you don't understand something, ask the person to repeat what he said. Nod, smile, maintain eye contact and lean forward as a way to use nonverbal cues to show you're paying attention to what the other person is saying.

Why Should You Clarify Expectations?

Clarifying expectations is the final portion of solving conflict. Doing so puts everyone on the same page moving forward. Anyone who wavers from these expectations should know the consequences, so ask everyone if they understand precisely what they should do.

Productive conflict can reset everyone's thought processes and get them moving forward in a new direction. Solving problems in this way makes for a happier, more productive and engaged team with the tasks at hand.

Photo courtesy of jesadaphorn at


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