Let’s deal with it: constructive conflict

Two kids fight over a teddy bear

Whether it is children fighting over a toy or adults in political debate, you can find conflict around every corner. In business, I have seen strife between two co-workers on a manufacturing floor as well as a collision between executive vice-presidents in a board room. The situations and personalities vary yet the fundamental basis for conflict is the same – it is based on differences.

Simply being different does not necessarily create an issue. In fact, we know that having diverse leadership teams can provide tangible benefits. A 2015 McKinsey report on 366 public companies affirmed that those in the top quartile for ethnic and racial diversity in management were 35% more likely to have financial returns above their industry mean.

Then what kind of differences cause conflict? Actually, conflict is triggered when differences in needs, values and motives come into play. Something core to ‘who you are’ or ‘what you need’ feels in jeopardy. Intense emotions can follow, from fear or apprehension to anger and even hatred.

One way to get through conflict constructively starts with understanding what is truly coming into contention. Here are some questions that can help with that:

  • “What’s your real need here?”
  • “What interests need to be served in this situation?”
  • “What values are important to you here?”
  • “What’s the outcome or result you want?”
  • “Why does that seem to be the best solution to you?”

By gaining clarity on the conflict we open the door for cooperation. Those involved can then attack the real problems rather than the people. Going for a win-win approach where the needs and values of both parties is clear then sets the stage for constructive conflict for mutual gain. While resolving conflicts take time and energy, you can come away with an outcome where both people benefit!

The questions above are from the Conflict Resolution Network. They have many free resources you can access including additional skills like the one above. If you need further help, Escape to Expand offers team workshop modules that provide practical approaches to managing constructive conflict within your teams.

Do you have an example where you were able to come to a win-win situation from what seemed to be a divisive struggle?