The Art of Productive Conflict: Learn How to Turn Disagreements Into Opportunities for Growth

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Date:

September 5, 2022

Author:

Milan Kordestani

Entrepreneur, writer, and founder of 3 purpose-driven companies oriented toward giving individuals control over their own discourse and creation. Milan works to produce socially positive externalities through a mindset of social architecture.

Hi! I'm Milan, an LA based founder and writer, architecting impact-first businesses.

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As an entrepreneur, I know what it feels like to be stressed out by the fast-paced work environment. While building a startup is challenging in itself, extra stress can arise among teams if conflict is avoided entirely. Most entrepreneurs avoid disputes in order to avoid discomfort, but this leads to poor results and more stress on top of their already busy lives.

While growing three purpose-driven startups, I’ve found that avoiding conflict does more harm than good. If you don’t communicate your disagreements clearly with the team, they’ll execute even bad plans. You may avoid disrupting peace in the short term, but in the long run, it will inhibit growth and progress in your company. Managing conflict productively is vital for avoiding undue stress and fostering an environment brimming with growth opportunities.

What is Productive Conflict?

Resolving any dispute requires a culture that encourages respectful communication and civil discourse. All team members should feel comfortable having open conversations where they can freely exchange ideas to reach a common ground.

Communicating civilly can help you turn a sticky situation into an opportunity for growth. Productive conflict is about having a healthy interaction with another person with a clear goal of dispute resolution. Positive conflict allows you to voice your disagreements with someone in a respectful tone, so that you can learn from one another and find solutions together.

There are numerous benefits that you’ll gain from embracing productive conflict. These include:

  1. Reducing workplace stress and increasing productivity.
  2. Making it easier to embrace and process contrasting ideas.
  3. Creating a solution-oriented environment teeming with growth opportunities.
  4. Nurturing mutual respect and holistic growth of all parties involved.

Components of Productive Conflict

Regardless of the size or nature of your company, productive conflict had three common characteristics:

  1. Have empathy for others

Conflict creates gaps in understanding. Empathy—putting yourself in the other person’s shoes—can help you understand why things broke down in the first place.

  1. Give respect to all parties

Respect is a powerful force in building relationships, allowing people to work together toward achieving common goals. Just demonstrating respect in a conversation can improve your relationship with another person.

  1. Focus on the problem

Focus on fixing the problem at hand, not winning the argument. Encourage everyone to bring their ideas to the table and work together toward a solution.

Creating Productive Conflict: A 2 Step Method

When you have a plan in place for how to resolve conflict, it’s much easier to do so. Here’s a simple formula for creating productive conflict in the workplace:

  1. Be aware

In order to overcome conflict, understanding is key. Understanding the problem, your own position, mindset, and communication style as well as those of the person opposing you are all vital parts of resolving disputes peacefully.

To address a problem, first acknowledge that it exists. Second, create an environment conducive to civil discourse by being respectful of others' viewpoints and listening to their input. Also, understand the root cause of the conflict so you can move forward productively.

  1. Find Common Ground

Once you’ve taken a moment to pause, get everyone involved to focus on finding a potential common ground. Let everyone present their perspective, listen to each other’s points of view in a civil manner, and carve out the best possible way to resolve the issue at hand. 

The true art of productive conflict lies reaching a mutual agreement, and that requires common ground between opposing parties.

Productive vs. Destructive Conflict

Conflict arises when people have different opinions or work ethics. With multiple people working in close proximity, potential for conflict is inevitable.

When people are not aware of their behavior, conflicts can be destructive. In such cases, two parties may unconsciously become absorbed in an argument that saps their motivation and frustrates them. The mood of the entire team sinks and no progress is made.

Destructive conflict happens when you focus on the person, not the issue. When this happens, your team members may look for ways to deny responsibility and pass the blame to someone else. This shows that they're not trying to solve a problem; instead, they're looking to pass blame to protect their egos.

We can fix things by adopting a solution-oriented approach. This means we must reflect on the conflict from a new perspective and determine how to move forward.

To turn conflict into a growth opportunity, both parties must adopt a civil mindset and let all participants speak freely. This approach helps you build trust and enrich relationships with your team members, and it brings harmony to the entire team.

Role of the Leader in Productive Conflict

A strong leader will drive conflicts to a productive solution in their workplace. They involve all team members in decision-making, getting everyone to focus on the bigger picture. They seek not a single star performer within the team, but rather success as a whole.

A good leader is transparent and honest with their team. They communicate clearly and respectfully, building trust. This allows them to solve conflicts within the group in a productive way.

Ultimately, the leader should try to build a cohesive team where individual goals are aligned with the team’s targets. This will help ensure that everyone is working in sync to meet all challenges and that your team remains productive even amid conflict and strife.

Conclusion

Conflict is inevitable in the workplace. When faced with unproductive conflict, you must bring the issue out into the open. Then everyone must work to address it head on. Some people will need to develop more sensitivity to detect when people are getting uncomfortable, and others need to become more comfortable making their thoughts and opinions heard. 

Teams that work together respectfully, and are willing to adjust their communication style, can engage in productive conflict that leads to success.

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