Editor’s note: This blog was originally published in March 2018. It has been updated with new information and additional resources.
Have you ever found yourself engaged in an argument with a colleague? Perhaps confronting a peer over priorities? Or debating over work style differences? Maybe you’ve encountered personality clashes?
Conflict in the workplace is uncomfortable, stressful… and inevitable. But it is possible to transform difference and disagreement into positive outcomes.
Enter, productive conflict.
Productive conflict is defined as “an open exchange of conflicting or differing ideas in which parties feel equally heard, respected, and unafraid to voice dissenting opinions for the purpose of reaching a mutually comfortable resolution.”
What are the benefits of productive conflict?
- It opens our eyes to new ideas.
- It creates a more enriched work environment.
- It moves teams forward.
- It encourages us to listen.
- It allows all voices to be heard.
- It teaches us flexibility.
- It increases productivity.
Alternatively, unproductive conflict is described as “an argument, especially a repetitive one, without resolution, that leaves both parties feeling more angry and frustrated.” This type of conflict tears down relationships, creates competition, encourages avoidance, breeds anger and fighting, and causes division.
If we refuse to engage in any kind of conflict, we’re all going to nod and say yes and move forward. That may not be the right thing for us to do. We need to welcome different opinions and thoughts and not become frustrated when someone in the group is thinking differently.
Ask yourself: Is workplace conflict building your team? Or breaking it down?
Productive Conflict and Leadership
Productive conflict is essential for all team members, but especially for leaders. The higher you go in the organization, the more likely it is that you’re leading others and interacting with multiple teams.
For some teams, there is the expectation that you actively engage in productive conflict. You have to be willing to have differences of opinions, communicate, and reframe your thoughts so you can keep moving forward.
As leaders, we have to coach our team on what productive conflict looks like and how to do it. We must convey the value of inviting conflict and engaging in it, versus shutting it down.
Consider, what does productive conflict look like on your team? What do you want it to look like? Then embrace it when it comes. Or if a conflict is not productive in the moment, you can understand how to move the conflict to a productive setting and preserve the psychological safety of your team members.
Productive Conflict and the Everything DiSC® Assessment
One tool that we highly recommend for those wanting to increase their capacity for productive conflict is the Everything DiSC® Assessment, and in particular the Everything DiSC® Productive Conflict Assessment. Everything DiSC® is all about understanding your style: your motivators, your stressors, your tendencies, and how you may react to other styles. You are not defined by your DiSC style, but it does help illuminate your tendencies. Two individuals with the same style could approach conflict in different ways based on experience, awareness, and strategy.
Once you understand yourself, you know how you may react and you have the opportunity to choose how you would like to react. We all have destructive behaviors that we go to when we’re uncomfortable, but we need to pause and reframe and consider a constructive behavior or tendency that will help us work through the conflict and move forward. Some destructive behaviors include being passive-aggressive, overly critical, conflict avoidant, or overly emotional.
Once you have identified your default conflict style, you can develop strategies to help yourself pause and really hear what the other person is saying. Understanding your tendencies gives you the opportunity to reframe and start being comfortable engaging in productive conflict.
Resources to Develop Your Productive Conflict Skills
- The Five Dysfunctions of a Team by Patrick Lencioni
- The second dysfunction that Lencioni outlines in his fantastic book is the lack of conflict.
- The Exceptional Leader™
- This program includes an Everything DiSC® Workplace Assessment, which can help shed light on your own tendencies and those of others as it relates to conflict and the workplace.
- Everything DiSC® Productive Conflict
- Participants in this program will explore the destructive and productive conflict behaviors of each DiSC style, understand how to manage their response to conflict situations, and discover communication strategies when engaging in productive conflict with colleagues.
Campbell, Sherrie. The 10 Benefits of Conflict, Entrepreneur, 28 July 2016. Accessed 28 Mar. 2018
Valentine, Matt. What is Productive Conflict and Why Should You Care?, Goalcast, 20 Feb. 2018. Accessed 28 Mar. 2018