Disagreements and conflict are more than a common occurrence in today's world, they're realities that are woven into the very fabric of our modern society.
The public sphere has become increasingly hostile in recent years, fueled by political and social polarization, widespread distrust of media, and friction among opposing perspectives online. However, there is still some room to rationality, if we take right decisions and change our mind-thinking.
I’ve experienced my fair share of conflict firsthand while building three companies before the age of 23.
I've often found myself working alongside people with varying opinions, and these experiences have taught me that conflicts don’t have to always be negative and intense.
With the right approach, they can become opportunities to exchange ideas and build relationships.
What is Constructive Conflict?
Constructive conflict is a healthy way of disagreeing with others and embracing divergent views in order to solve problems.
It focuses on the bigger picture, leaving little room for negative emotions like anger or frustration.
Constructive conflict differs from stressful and destructive conflict, where people feel uncomfortable challenging each other's presented views.
In a constructive discussion, people disagree not to win or lose but to make decisions that all parties are comfortable with.
As an entrepreneur, you have to make sure your team is in sync and working towards the same goal.
You should provide them with a civil environment where they can openly present their viewpoints, share creative ideas, and receive valuable feedback.
It might seem like a lot of effort to be a stickler for collaborative and constructive conflict when you could easily opt for the "my way or the highway" approach. Trying to build a company with that mindset will only cost you in the long run.
The loss of creative thinking and innovation can’t be quantified, and you’ll never know what ideas people might have conceived, and how they might have contributed to new growth.
If you embrace constructive conflict, on the other hand, you'll be able to consider a situation from different perspectives and take a solution-oriented approach to growing your company.
Constructive Conflict Examples
When I talk about constructive conflict management, I frequently get asked how to identify if a conflict is truly constructive when people share varying opinions.
Here are some constructive conflict example that justify the definition of constructive conflict.
- Targets on identifying issues and seeking resolution
When you participate in a constructive dispute, you commit to resolving the issue at hand. The ultimate goal is to find the best possible outcome.
Embracing others' opinions is an intrinsic part of disagreeing constructively.
- Reflects teamwork
In a constructive conflict, you’ll notice a sense of cooperation among people. It forms an encouraging and safe environment for everyone to express their views.
People work as a team to find a common ground. There’s no selfish motive involved to prove one’s point or win an argument.
- Treats everyone equally
A productive conflict is characterized by shared power and mutual respect. Everyone's opinion is valued equally. Practice active listening and accept contrasting standpoints.
I always suggest young entrepreneurs be patient and have empathy while listening to others and treating everyone civilly.
- Promotes civil communication
In constructive conflict, you consider varying viewpoints to keep the discussion civil and productive. You conduct an open discussion with other participants to either agree or disagree with their viewpoints.
Such discussions demand evidence, honesty, validation, affirmation, and empathy.
If a disagreement meets all these characteristics, you feel encouraged to speak up and lead the discussion positively.
4 Tips: How to Build Constructive Conflict
As a result of our fast-paced, polarized, and competitive culture, people are often quick to anger.
A slight criticism on social media can provoke an argument, but anger won’t get you very far, and it surely isn’t the most productive way to come up with solutions.
If you want to be able to stay calm during conflicts, learn to use criticism as a way to grow and identify areas for improvement.
Give yourself enough time to process the feedback before responding to anything said during a conflict.
Follow the steps mentioned below to use constructive conflict to your advantage:
1. Clarify the doubts of disagreeing people
When giving your perspective on the situation, expect questions, doubts, or disagreements, and prepare yourself for an open discussion.
- Be confident about your opinions.
- Research well and provide evidence while arguing a point.
- Ask for validations and stay focused on the issue.
- Encourage others to participate and work with a team spirit.
2. Ask questions
It’s your responsibility to ask relevant questions as a participant in a constructive conflict.
- Express your doubts or disagreement, but be civil about it.
- Stay calm and watch your tone while raising questions.
- Whenever you’re confused between facts and assumptions, ask for clarification and authentic sources.
- Seek answers that help you understand better.
3. Empathize with people having opposing views
It’s natural to have polarized views on a particular subject when you engage in a dispute. But don’t forget that you’re conducting a discussion with your team member.
This helps develop empathy towards all the involved people. Practicing the following points will come in handy:
- Don’t take criticism personally.
- Respect others’ doubts and validate your points.
- Keep the bigger picture in mind that the conflict should arrive at a mutually-beneficial solution.
4. Respond to people’s queries
Responding to another person’s queries is as important as asking questions. It fosters building effective communication and have meaningful conversation. So, what you need to do to make the communication more valuable:
- Be attentive when someone raises a doubt.
- Even if you don’t know the solution, express it honestly, and look for ways to find an answer.
- Reply assertively and make others feel heard.
Use 'LARA' Method to Have Constructive Conflict
Even if you understand the benefits of constructive conflict, a discussion filled with contradictions might still go off-track and end up in harsh criticism and hurt feelings.
It’s important to learn some methods of constructively managing disputes.
The LARA method is a great way to productively handle tense discussions. It’s an actionable approach that maintains the dignity of disputing parties while exploring differences and reaching a resolution. Here’s how you can use it:
LARA Guideline (Listen, Affirm, Respond, Add)
- Listen to understand
Listening to what is actually being said in a discussion is the primary step for constructive conflict management. Keep an open mind to understand the other person’s standpoint. Your goal must be to learn, rather than changing the other person’s opinions.
- Affirm what was said
Acknowledge once the other person is done speaking. Affirming what they’ve shared creates an encouraging environment for people to feel heard while presenting their views.
You can repeat what you’ve heard to build a better understanding. This will further help in finding common ground between disputing members.
- Respond to the issues that were raised
Responding to the raised issues helps in reaching a productive solution. Be mindful while choosing words in your responses.
Avoid labeling or attacking anyone and take all the raised concerns seriously.
Use I-statements while answering rather than imposing your perceptions as universal facts.
For example, “I feel working from home is counter-productive,” compared to “Working from home is counter-productive.” This helps keep the destructive conflict at bay.
- Add info, seek to understand, and seek to be understood.
Add your take on the discussion and ask relevant questions. This conveys your genuine interest in exchanging information and helps you understand better, when the other person also feels understood.
Civil Discourse as a Way to Resolve Conflict
As I’ve pointed out, poor communication is one of the root causes of conflict, and fostering civil discourse is the most constructive way to tackle it. A civil interaction is based on promoting mutual understanding where you convey your viewpoints without canceling the other person’s take.
Civil discourse resolves conflict in three steps:
- Allows you to take a solution-oriented approach rather than proving the other person wrong.
- Creates a safe environment where people can present their opinions openly.
- Aids in reaching the best possible solution as everyone expresses their perspective of solving the problem at hand.
How to Promote Constructive Conflict in Business
As an entrepreneur working with various teams, I do my best to encourage constructive conflict during meetings. I see these conflicts as opportunities to spark new ideas and bring positive change.
Constructive conflict improves the company culture and strengthens the team. In 2023, businesses are adapting to the remote work environment.
People are working from home, transcending geographical barriers. With the lack of in-person interaction, co-workers are struggling to feel connected on a deeper level.
Many are still processing the post-pandemic anxiety while trying to juggle work at the same time.
This has increased stress levels for many, and the chances of conflict among teammates are higher than ever. It’s imperative that leaders promote constructive conflict in the remote work culture.
Here’s how you can practice the same to grow your business remotely:
- Organize engaging meetings
The option to work from home functions smoothly thanks to virtual meetings. Make sure your team members get a fair chance to put forth their stance. Organize meetings in a civil way that allows everyone to express themselves comfortably.
- Conduct brainstorming discussions
Brainstorming sessions are powerful tools for letting every teammate open up. They help generate creative ideas and deepen understanding among team members.
- Show acceptance towards team members
Build a work culture where participation is rewarded regardless of success or failure. This expresses your appreciative nature towards your team members and helps them come out of their comfort zone to openly express their ideas.
- Embrace Diversity
Remote work lets you connect with capable individuals from varying cultural backgrounds and unique opinions. Embrace this diversity by making people feel heard and understood.
Based on their understanding, encourage everyone to actively participate in meetings.
Leverage a constructive remote work environment to positively transform your creativity, revenue, and overall growth.
Destructive Conflict vs Constructive Conflict
When a disagreement is intended to prove others wrong, it’s known as destructive conflict. It is characterized by aggression, dominance, antipathy, and intolerance. Such a heated dispute causes friction and leads to further negative outcomes.
Constructive Conflict vs Destructive Conflict
Open and respectful two-way discussion is involved. Focused on proving the opposition wrong. Varying opinions are presented for deepening understanding.
Team incompatibility, resentment, and antipathy. Promotes collaboration and better innovation. The blame game and ego clashes.
Enhances self-awareness. Resort to personal attacks, forgetting about the issue at hand. Better team management and productivity. Creates division and leads to ineffective work.
Turning conflict into a productive discussion is not easy; after all, if it were, we would see far more of it today. We need to overcome the challenges that come with discussing controversial and sensitive topics by learning to build rapport, listen with an open mind, and develop the trust needed to share ideas respectfully.
Understanding how to utilize a difference of opinion to reach an advanced solution is a skill we can all work on and develop. The best results occur when we make room for more discussion, both for ourselves and for others.