top of page

The art of constructive conflict

The management of professional and personal conflict is a major issue for individuals and companies. Disagreements can be beneficial if you know how to manage them constructively. To argue is to exchange points of view, to expend energy, a stimulating energy that one needs to develop certain abilities. It is therefore not the argument itself that is problematic, but the way in which the argument unfolds. There are postures to adopt and "elements of language" to exchange and this can be learned.

A study conducted by the firm CPP Global in 2017 among 5,000 professionals reveals that 85% of employees worldwide encounter conflicts at work, including 29% regularly.

Another study conducted by the University of California in 2019 shows that marital conflict can cause long-term physical and mental damage.

Finally, a Harvard Business School professor claims that 65% of high-potential startups fail because of partner disputes. In this article, we will see the importance of defining your end goal in the conflict and implementing tips to manage it effectively.

First of all, it is crucial to understand that the end goal of constructive argument is not to be right but to obtain a result (Examples: for business partners the underlying result is most of the time success of the company and for the couple the durability of the relationship, the feelings and the common construction). If the objective is only to be right, often to feed one's ego and unconsciously dominate the other, even if the person is technically right, the relationship will not last over time and the result can never be obtained (unless the underlying goal is the destruction of the relationship of course but that is another subject). It is therefore important to define your end goal from the start of the conflict and to keep it in mind at all times. Disagreement must be used to get things done and not to overwhelm the other (a few examples to avoid: using the other's past, using generalist words such as "always" or "never", using the personal pronoun "you", using the insecurities of the other, etc.). A study conducted by the University of Illinois in 2018 shows that constructive conflict has a positive impact on team performance and creativity.

But here comes the first big difficulty. Having the necessary hindsight in the moment, to realize that individuals are carried away by their emotions in a crusade to be right, is a skill of discernment and emotional intelligence already well trained.

Indeed, this type of exchange will trigger a form of anger that is in most cases only based on thoughts such as suppositions, projections, evaluations or interpretations of situations that make people think that someone else tries (consciously or not) to hurt or dominate them. To successfully discern this unconscious mechanism that manipulates individuals, you will need the help of a third party or regular self-work.

Once there is even an ounce of situational awareness, de-escalation of the conflict is also essential. Misunderstandings should be avoided as they can quickly escalate the situation. For this, an effective technique is reformulation. It is a question of repeating the words of the other to make sure that we are talking about the same thing. Everyone summarizes and clearly states the reason for the disagreement. This little summary helps to see things more clearly and not to go all over the place. This allows you to express your needs and expectations in a positive way. In other words, the negative and off-putting phrases give way to the terrain of the solution and the future: what can we do to make everything better? What efforts can we put in place? What are the reciprocal needs? A study conducted by Duke University in 2018 shows that this technique is effective in improving communication, reducing conflict, gaining clarity and efficiency.

Another tool for de-escalation is learning to stop. If the emotional level is too intense, interrupting the discussion can be extremely beneficial to return to healthier bases of exchange, taking time to breathe and calm the nervous system. It is therefore important to show empathy and respect towards the other. Listening without interrupting is mostly experienced as a mark of respect. Not judging each other is also crucial as it only increases animosity. It is a question of realizing that two individuals are the meeting of a mountain of psychological baggages which will, if they have not been addressed, reappear according to the situation (A new Ipsos study of March 2023 indicates that for 80% of French people, going to therapy remains taboo). It is therefore a question of listening to acknowledge the points of view and/or the emotions of the other, of being in a posture of understanding and curiosity and not of victory or of being right. According to a study conducted by Accenture in 2019, empathy is considered a key skill for leaders and entrepreneurs. It has to be learned and developed.

In conclusion, conflicts, inevitable over time in any type of relationship, can be vectors of progress for all parties and situations. Just learn and practice.

When are you starting?

8 views0 comments


bottom of page