The secret to turning conflict into cooperation

February 2, 2018

When most people hear the word “conflict” their initial reaction is to label it as something bad.  And, given that most people have negative results with their experiences involving conflict, that makes sense.

But what if I told you that conflict isn’t necessarily a bad thing.  That conflict, used the right way, can actually make you, your team, and your organization unstoppable.  That there is a technique by which you can turn conflict into cooperation.

In this article we’re going to bust a few myths and discover the truth about conflict.  Plus, you’ll see not just how to adjust your perceptions of conflicting behavior, but how to utilize the nature of conflict to create conversations which lead to cooperation and growth in your company.

And it all starts with a fundamental question …

Is conflict good or bad?

This is sort of a trick question because conflict on it’s own isn’t necessarily a bad thing.  That isn’t to say it doesn’t often feel bad, but believe it or not conflict can actually be good and healthy.

After all, what is conflict, really?

At it’s core, conflict is simply a difference of opinions involving strong emotions.

Secrets to turning conflict into cooperation - TH!NK Training - 01 - Strong Emotions
Are you experiencing some strong emotions at work?

Of course, having a difference of opinions isn’t a bad thing.  In fact, the diverse perspectives of your team members is probably one of the strengths of your organization.  When you have different ideas come together you can better rise to challenges and develop effective strategies.

Having strong emotions isn’t necessarily bad either.  After all, working with people who are passionate about what they do means everyone is bringing their “A game” to the task at hand.  When people feel strongly about doing good work, then the end result is better for everyone.

The best ideas are generated when people are passionate about what they do, are willing to debate and explore the ideas that come up, and want to learn from other’s perspectives in order to find a solution.  Combining passion, ideas and communication is a formula for an unstoppable company.

But what happens when you or members of your team just aren’t interested in hearing the opinions of others?  How can you maintain productivity when you have conflict?

Well, as with many things in life, the solution starts with you.

The key to productive conflict

The most important skill in turning conflict into productivity, is developing self-awareness.

Being aware of both your healthy and unhealthy behaviors — especially when experiencing conflict — allows you to manage those behaviors and reactions.  It is hard to change a situation if you don’t know all of the contributing factors, and with conflict our thoughts and behaviors are the elements that contribute the most to how those situations can, or can not, be resolved.

But awareness is just the beginning.  When you start to identify your healthy and unhealthy behaviors and reactions, you can utilize some of the techniques we’ll cover in a moment to start to curb those destructive thoughts and behaviors.  This in turn, allows you to channel conflict into a conversation that focuses on improvement.

Secrets to turning conflict into cooperation - TH!NK Training - 02 - The key to conflict
Do you have the key to resolving conflict?

Too many times, people use conflict as a reason to stop talking.  But the reality is, conversations are critical to work through and resolve conflict.  If you can work through the conflicts and come to a true solution, just image what your teams could accomplish.  Not just with goals of the project, with with processes, relationships and results!

So, if awareness of destructive behaviors is the key, what exactly are some of those behaviors we should be on the lookout for?

Examples of destructive behaviors

Here are a few of the most common destructive behaviors when it comes to conflict.  See if you can identify yourself with any of these.

  • Insensitivity
  • Impatience
  • Creating win-lose situations
  • Overpowering others
  • Becoming overly emotional
  • Talking over others
  • Glossing over tension
  • Making personal attacks
  • Withdrawing into yourself
  • Giving in just to please others
  • Avoiding tension
  • Ignoring problems
  • Defensiveness
  • Passive-aggressive tactics
  • Isolating yourself
  • Over-analyzing the situation

If you’re like me, you were probably cringing reading that list.  It is easy to think of times when we’ve demonstrated some or all of those behaviors.

Secrets to turning conflict into cooperation - TH!NK Training - 03 - Unhappy with reactions
How some of us feel after realizing our instinctive reactions to conflict

Not to worry.  We all do from time to time.

But it is how you are able to turn the destructive behaviors into productive ones that makes all the difference.

Going from destructive to productive

So, what are your options?  If you want to change destructive into productive then that means understanding what some of the alternative actions and mental frameworks you can adopt.

Here are a list of actions you can take that will help you move from a destructive to productive mindset when dealing with conflicts.  Once again, see if you can identify yourself in any of these behaviors.

  • Be straightforward with your opinions
  • Acknowledge tough issues and the challenges ahead
  • Be objective when debating the topic
  • Communicate empathy and understanding
  • Encourage an open dialogue
  • Verbalize your emotions
  • Be flexible in your approach
  • Be on the lookout for other people’s feelings
  • Listen to others
  • Find the root cause of the problem
  • Give people space
  • Focus on the facts

Much less cringe-worthy, right?

Secrets to turning conflict into cooperation - TH!NK Training - 06 - develop communication
When you change how you react, you change the dynamic of a conflict

And as you’re looking at the list you might be thinking “Well, that’s all fine and good, but when you are emotionally charged in the heat of a situation, how can you suddenly change your behaviors from destructive to productive?  Isn’t that really hard to do?”

The key to this is hacking your automatic thoughts and re-framing them.

What do I mean by that?

Well, “automatic thoughts” are those that are automatically triggered by conflict events.  They are there, beneath the surface, and when conflict occurs they happen without your explicit intentions and turn into a destructive response.

For example, a destructive response might be dismissing other people’s opinions, so the automatic thought that fuels that behavior might be “Nothing anyone says will change my mind” or “There’s really no other way to think about this.”

Each destructive response is triggered by an automatic thought, so what do you do once you’ve identified the thoughts?

Secrets to turning conflict into cooperation - TH!NK Training - 04 - Reframing your thoughts
It’s time to get a new frame for that old mental picture

Re-framing your thoughts

Well, the second part is to “re-frame them.”

Re-framing is essentially turning the conflict around and viewing it from a different “frame” or viewpoint.  The situation doesn’t actually change, but your perspective on it is modified by looking at it from a different place.

For example, if your automatic thought is “That is the most ridiculous idea I’ve ever heard”, then your re-framed thought might be “That’s a different approach. I’ve never thought about it that way before.”

Here are a few more examples:

  • Automatic thought: “Arguing about this isn’t going to accomplish anything.”
  • Re-framed thought: “Discussing this issue will help us find a resolution faster.”
  • Automatic  Thought: “I just want to stay in my office and not get involved.”
  • Re-framed thought: “I have some valuable insight to offer this discussion.”
  • Automatic thought: “I work with a bunch of idiots!”
  • Re-framed thought: “I work with people from a diverse array of backgrounds and experiences.”

Re-framing your thoughts takes some time and effort, but it is definitely a skill worth developing.  Of course, we are happy to help you develop those skills for you and your team, so feel free to reach out to us to learn more.

Three steps to productive conflict

We’ve covered a lot of information in this post, so let’s break it down to three things to keep in mind when working to turn conflicts into productive solutions.

1. Conflict is good

Remember, conflict isn’t inherently bad.  It is just the sharing of different opinions.  You can turn conflict into a positive force for productive change in your organization.

2. Stay open and healthy

When you find yourself demonstrating unhealthy behaviors in conflict, take a break and re-engage in the conversation when you are ready to listen to the other person.

3. Focus on the solution

The goal of conflicts is not to win.  A conflict is not an argument.  The true goal of a conflict is to find a solution.  Keep that as your primary focus as you engage with others on your team.

Secrets to turning conflict into cooperation - TH!NK Training - 05 - conflict is good
When you can use conflict productively, your team becomes unstoppable!

Need help with conflicts?

As we mentioned before, we help organizations and companies all over Hawaii to adjust their strategies and methodologies to help them manage productive conflicts.  You’re welcome to reach out to us to learn more about our coaching options.

We also recently held a series of Everything DiSC® Productive Conflict showcases on Oahu, Hawaii and Kauai, where we shared a tool to help you manage conflict in order to enhance your team and company.  If you want to be on the waiting list to learn about our future showcases and events, click here.

So, how about you?  Do you have any strategies for making conflict more productive?  Comment below and share some of your ideas. We’d love to learn about your techniques for turning conflict into cooperation.

Photos by Allen Taylor, Morgan BashamTommy Lee Walker, Sharon Garcia, Anna Vander Stel, Jessica Ruscello and Zachary Nelson on Unsplash

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