The secret to turning conflict into cooperation

Secrets to turning conflict into cooperation - TH!NK Training - Featured Image

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.

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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.

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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?

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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.

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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

Three strategies to avoid hiring the wrong people

75% of employers say they have hired the wrong person and the average cost of one bad hire was near $17,000

~ 2016 Career Builder Survey

Are you a part of the 75% of businesses who hired the wrong person?  A 2016 survey from Career Builder reports that the employers who hired the wrong person could detect their costly mistake within 1 to 3 weeks of employment.  Within three weeks, some telling signs that they selected the wrong person for the job are:

  • Less productivity
  • Compromised quality of work
  • Negative impact on employee morale

We often ask employers why their hires don’t work out.  The most common response is a frustrated conclusion that their candidates must have lied in the interview.

Instead of investing valuable time re-designing your entire selection process, try tracking the cost of turnover.

Does it feel like people are leaving quickly?  Analyze your turnover with specific numbers, rather than relying on your gut feeling.  The RISCPA (Rhode Island Society of Certified Public Accountants) has an excellent template for calculating your cost of turnover on their website here.

Hiring people with the right job fit can help relieve the burden of the hidden costs of turnover.  Many companies struggle with selecting the right person for the job and integrating the person into their organization’s culture. It is frustrating and disappointing when an ideal candidate turns out to be a wrong fit.

How can you avoid the pitfall of hiring the wrong person?  The solution is a better interview, selection, and onboarding process.  

Today we’re going to analyze the symptoms that employers experience and indicate early signs of hiring the wrong person, offer diagnostic questions to help identify the problem, and finally, we will recommend strategies to prevent the mistake from happening again.

Symptom #1:

The employee doesn’t produce the quality of work or demonstrate the skills they claimed to have during the interview. 

Avoid hiring the wrong person - TH!NK Training - Quality of Work
Does your hire have the right quality of work?

Diagnostic Question: 

How do we objectively measure the candidate’s ability to do the requirements of the job and not just rely on the applicant’s word?


Use an assessment tool that identifies and measures the thinking skills required for a job.  It should be able to objectively compare a candidate’s abilities to those requirements. 

One such tool, PXT Select™, allows employers to utilize Job Performance Models to identify how well a candidate fits a job.

These Job Performance Models are selected either from a list of established models, or by designing one customized for your position.  The custom Job Performance Model is created by answering a series of questions around numeric skills, numeric reasoning, verbal skills, verbal reasoning, behaviors and interests.

The Job Performance Model is then integrated into an online questionnaire for the candidate to fill out.  Afterwards the employer receives the PXT Select™ Comprehensive Report; a data-driven analysis of how well the applicant’s abilities match the requirements of the job.

Click here to see an example of the PXT Select™ Comprehensive Report.

Using an assessment tool adds objective data to a process that is often subjective and has a gut feeling component to it.  Of course, an assessment should not be the only piece used in your selection process.  But it is an ideal tool to add to your selection process after you’ve received the resume and before conducting the initial interview.

Symptom #2: 

The employee doesn’t work well with other employees. 

Avoid hiring the wrong person - TH!NK Training - Negative Attitude
Does your new hire get along well with their team?

Diagnostic Questions:

How will the candidate fit into the culture of a team?  Will the employee be comfortable and productive within the team?  How does the candidate align with the values of the organization? How will the candidate work with or respond to different behavioral styles that could be on the team?

Solution #2: 

Analyze how a candidate’s behaviors fit with the rest of the team before they are hired.  

“Working well” is typically a function of how well the people on the team accept each other’s behaviors.  The goal is to have diverse behavioral styles on the team.  This ensures your team has multiple perspectives to help the organization. 

For example, you may have five people on your team who tend to behave in a more open trusting manner, but the new hire may have a skeptical approach to trusting new people, products, and services. The new hire’s natural practice of skepticism could be an asset to the team, helping them diagnose problems early. 

Often when different approaches are not valued it can bring turmoil to the team.  How a team welcomes and integrates the new hire impacts their work and social behaviors. 

PXT Select™ provides a way to analyze how well a candidate’s behavior style will fit within an existing team.  The results are presented in the PXT Select™ Team Report, which can be used when onboarding a new hire.  It also helps the existing team to prepare for the new team member.

You can download an example of the PXT Select™ Team Report here.

When deciding to hire a candidate with different behaviors from the team, be prepared to answer the following questions: 

  • How will you ensure the new hire’s approach is valued instead of judged by the team?
  • What will you do to manage team culture and encourage various behaviors on your team?

Symptom #3: 

The employee has a negative attitude, and customers complain about the new employee. 

Avoid hiring the wrong person - TH!NK Training - Working well with others
Does your new hire have the right attitude?

Diagnostic Question: 

What training has the employee received about service expectations and standards?  How could a negative attitude in service situations be identified earlier in the selection process?  How has this employee handled difficult customer situations in the past?


When a customer complains about an employee it is often a result of how the employee’s behaviors make them feel.  It also stems from a lack of reliability by the employee. 

Is this a case where you selected well but did not train properly? 

It is best not to jump to the conclusion that it was a bad hire.  Retrain your employees on the values of your company and how they should treat your customers.  Define your service standards so that employees know the expected behaviors behind “how” to take care of people and not just what to do for them.  To ensure quality work focus on training them on the processes in their job. 

There are three keys to hiring the right candidate:

  1. Ask solid interview questions
  2. Know the behaviors you are looking for in a top performer
  3. Be clear on the interests a person needs to enjoy their work

So, what is a useful question?  Marie Kumabe, President of Kumabe HR (, says behavior-based interview questions provide actual examples of a person’s competency and help you predict future behavior.

For example, instead of asking “Can you handle angry customers?“, You should ask, “Tell me about a situation where you had to deal with an angry customer.  How did you take care of it? What was the outcome? 

If you are not confident with identifying behavior-based interview questions, not to worry.  The PXT Select™ Comprehensive Selection Report not only analyzes job fit, but provides specific, behavior-based questions customized to the candidate and their relationship to the position’s Job Performance Model.  (Click here to download a copy of the report.)

In Summary

Follow these steps when you start preparing to hire for your next position:

  1. Calculate your cost of turnover.
  2. Get a clear picture of what it takes to be successful in a position.   Don’t just know the job tasks associated with the position.  Focus on identifying the cognitive thinking skills, behaviors, and interests of a top performer.
  3. Include an assessment tool in the process.  It should objectively measure a candidates’s skills, behaviors, and interests to determine their fit with the requirements of a position.  An assessment will add objective data-driven information to a typically subjective process.
  4. Evaluate potential in addition to the skillset with behavior-based interview questions.

Next Steps

Want to learn more about PXT Select?  Contact us today to learn more about how PXT Select™ can help you find and hire the best candidates for your business.  You can also learn more about PXT Select on our “Solutions for Teams” page where we break down what it is, what it offers and how it can work for your business.

PXT Select™ is a registered trademark of John Wiley & Sons, Inc. All rights reserved.

Photos by Tim Gouw, Giovanni Randisi, Jason Blackeye and Meghan Duthu (Unsplash)