There are five steps to productive conflict. Wait, productive conflict? I know it’s hard to imagine because most people when they hear the word ‘conflict’ think of fighting, yelling, and arguing. What they’re referring to and what you’re probably thinking about right now, is destructive conflict. The negative kind of conflict that leaves hurt feelings, usually ends in stalemate, and over time can lead to a loss of productivity, effectiveness and engagement at work. This type of conflict wastes time and energy, and damages relationships. Productive conflict, on the other hand, is a healthy version of conflict that focuses on finding solutions in a respectful manner. One way to reach productive conflict is to utilize the 5 Steps to Resolution by Orrin Woodward. 

Step 1: Affirm the Relationship 

When you’re in conflict with someone, you’re usually not happy with the other person. So Step 1 encourages you to remember why you have a relationship with this person in the first place. Then take the time to tell the other person how much you value them. For example, “We work closely together on a lot of projects and I value our relationship.  So I am ok hashing this out with you so that we can get to a better place.”

Step 2: Seek to Understand 

This step actually pays homage to Stephen Covey’s  The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. Everyone wants to be heard and valued. This is just inherent to the human psyche. So this step makes us stop and listen. Instead of talking over each other trying to make sure that our viewpoint is the last one to be heard, we need to take the time to listen to what the other person is feeling. What do they want? What is important to them? The idea is to listen intently and repeat back to them what you heard. For example, “Let me see if I understand what you are saying. You feel…. Or You want….”

Step 3: Seek to Be Understood 

Once you’ve listened to why the other person feels the way they do, you’ve put what you heard into words, and they’ve agreed that you got it right, it’s your turn to share. This isn’t the time to let yourself get riled up. In fact, it’s really important that you keep your emotions in check or you’ll negate any progress you may have made in step two. So calmly and respectfully share your point of view on the issue at hand. When you’re finished ask the other person to please recap what you’ve shared with them to make sure they heard what you intended for them to hear.

Step 4: Own Responsibility By Apologizing 

This may be the hardest step for many of you, but it’s crucial to productive conflict and reaching a resolution. When you’re in conflict with someone, you may not be aware of the damage it has caused to your relationship. So own as much of the conflict as possible while still being truthful. For example, “I’m sorry that I dismissed your idea and talked over you in the meeting.” Even if you absolutely feel that you did nothing wrong, you can own the fact that you did not understand where the other person was coming from, and that you’d like get a better understanding now. 

Step 5: Seek Agreement 

Now it’s time to find a way forward out of the conflict. Have a discussion about what you would each like to see happen by repeating Steps 2 & 3. Wherever you find mutual agreement is a logical first step. However, also realize that compromise is key here. You don’t have to be in complete agreement in order to resolve the conflict. You just have to make some progress in the situation. In fact, if your conflict involves more than one issue or has evolved over a long period of time, you may have to start small. Choose one thing to commit to and then keep the commitment. This will build trust and decrease the likelihood of future conflicts over the same issue.  

To Wrap It Up

Conflict is inevitable in the workplace when have a lot of different personality types from different backgrounds, and who have different priorities, motivations, stressors and emotional needs. However,  it doesn’t have to be destructive. Conflict when done correctly is actually the gateway to the truth: better and brighter innovation as well as improved team dynamics. To get there utilize the 5 Steps to Resolution to engage in productive conflict. Oh and one last thing! Do the steps in person if at all possible. There’s just too much lost in written communication.

To improve your team’s ability to embrace productive conflict, call us. The Culture (R)evolution Starts With You! 

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