3 Keys to Productive Conflict

Conflict is inevitable. The ability to navigate conflict in an effective, productive way is make-or-break to the health, strength, and performance of teams. It is easily the single most important and also difficult topic to master when it comes to the complicated dynamics of humans interacting and working together. The earmark of great leaders and teams is their capacity to address and resolve conflict and difficult conversations head on, in a timely, collaborative, solution-focused way. Unresolved conflict leads to resentment, active disengagement, and skydives the performance of teams straight into hell. Bye-bye great employees, hello damage to your bottom line.

*Climbs up on a soapbox
Companies who put people into leadership positions must build the ability of those leaders to manage and resolve conflict, and navigate challenging conversations. If you want to build a company or team culture that’s exceptional, this is non-negotiable. Also, a lot of conflict that takes place at work doesn’t get seen by or involve leaders, so build this capacity in all of your people not just leadership.

Being able to navigate conflict productively takes some practical and technical skills as well as a good dose of emotional intelligence. Here are three incredibly important tools to increase you and your team’s capacity in conflict management:


1. Adjust how you frame the situation.

Use language in conflict that speaks to the experience that you’re having, instead of accusing somebody else of what kind of person they are or what they’re doing wrong. Accusations and labels put people on the defensive and turn conflict into battle. When you tell someone that they don’t listen to you, for example, it becomes a debatable topic. This type of approach often devolves into an argument about whether or not they listen to you. However, when you tell someone that the experience you’re having is that you don’t feel listened to, you take the conversation onto more emotionally neutral ground and steer away from them being as defensive because you’re speaking to your own experience. It’s much more productive and diffusing to frame the situation by saying “The experience I’m having is that I don’t feel listened to, are you open to having a conversation about that?”

2. Conflict is not win or lose.

Stop seeing conflict as you against that other person. Conflict is not about one person winning or losing. Conflict is not a competitive sport. Try seeing the situation as the two of you against the problem. Even if the problem is that you two don’t like each other, for example, or have a hard time working together, approach the situation with the mindset of “Despite that, how can the two of us work together to resolve this situation and make things better for both of us?” Instead of a boxing ring with each of you in opposite corners, picture the two of you in the same corner against the problem. Seeing things this way allows you to put yourself in a space of being able to ask and listen, and truly look to understand where the other person is coming from while also discarding the need to be right, or win, so that you can work together and find a resolution for both of you.

3. Check yourself.

Before you wreck yourself. Be honest about what you really want the outcome of this situation to be. Do you actually want to find a resolution that works for both people, or do you simply want to win, or put the other person in their place, or make them look or feel bad? It takes a lot of courage and vulnerability to go into a situation willing to ask and listen and put your opinions and judgement to the side for a moment in order to navigate conflict in a way that is positive and productive. This includes the willingness to examine how you’ve contributed to the situation, and to make some adjustments. Self awareness and reflection goes a long way. #emotionalintelligence. Speaking of emotional intelligence, keep your emotional behavior in check. As a human, you have a right to feel any way that you feel. But the same is not true for how you treat others. Being angry is an emotion. Yelling at someone is a behavior. You do not always get to choose your emotions, especially when things are heated, but you absolutely do choose your actions, how you behave, and treat other people. Check yourself.



Conflict is difficult. It’s basically the most challenging and uncomfortable part of being a human and interacting with other humans. The bad news is that most of us are relatively terrible at it. However, with some tools to help refine your approach and mindset, it is something that you can practice becoming more proficient and even good at. It is a must-have skill for organizations to build in their leaders and teams and something to never stop working at and attempting to master. Conflict isn’t going anywhere, so you might as well get good at it.

This article was written by Galen Emanuele for the #shiftyestribe. Free leadership and team culture content centered on a new focus every month. Subscribe with your team at shiftyes.com

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