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Constructive vs Destructive Conflict


Colleagues engaging in a constructive discussion, representing the effective resolution of workplace conflict.

Conflict can make people uncomfortable. As humans, we are wired to belong and conflict can jeopardize that. However, a workplace with no conflict generally leads to low performance and little, if any, innovation.


There are significant benefits of constructive conflict. In a study by GinuxBlog, they found:

76% of workers worldwide have seen a conflict lead to something positive

41% of them found that it led to a better understanding of other people

33% experienced improved working relationships

29% even found a better solution to their problem or challenge

Conflict must be done right. Destructive conflict leads to missed opportunities, lower productivity, and even a toxic workplace. While constructive conflict leads to ideas and progress.

What is the difference between constructive conflict and destructive conflict?

Destructive conflict happens when people oversimplify an issue and believe there are only two choices; right and wrong and us versus them. This type of conflict divides, rather than unites people. Destructive conflict gets heated emotions involved. In many cases of destructive conflict, there is someone who works to keep the drama and emotions high – this person is called a conflict entrepreneur. (You may know someone like this..)

Constructive conflict is grounded in trust, mutual respect, and considerate candor. Constructive conflict focuses on bringing people together to solve a problem. In constructive conflict, people feel safe to share their ideas knowing they will be heard by their team members without judgment.

Winning is the ultimate goal of destructive conflict whereas solutions are the primary goal of constructive conflict.

So how do you as a leader encourage constructive conflict on your team?

  • Encourage your team to consider many angles of a problem – not just two

  • Ask each team member to write down ideas, then have everyone share

  • If you notice a conflict entrepreneur on your team, speak to them privately about how their actions can be destructive for themselves and the team

  • Role model asking questions, active listening, and open-mindedness

Reflection Question: What will I do to foster constructive conflict within the team I lead?

Sources:

Amanda Ripley – High Conflict

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