Productive vs Unproductive Conflict

Conflict resolution process on a napkin

How do YOU feel about conflict?

Are you someone whose OK with it, seeing it as a normal part of life’s rich tapestry OR someone who avoids it like the plague?

If you’re one of the many people who really don’t like it (or even hate it), you may be wondering how on earth can anyone regard conflict as ‘productive’?

I mean, most people associate conflict with arguments, raised voices, bitterness, drama, anger, emotional turmoil, stonewalling, sarcasm, hurt feelings and upset to name but a few! Most people find it stressful, draining and damaging.

I’ve never really liked it. I now know that goes with my DiSC style. In the past, my less than helpful responses have been to take things personally, to become emotional and to feel upset.

But…over the years, I’ve improved! And knowing and understanding the Everything DiSC model has been a huge help.

And in 2018, the help around conflict became even more targeted with The Everything DiSC Productive Conflict profile

This 23 page personalised profile is packed full of tools, tips and strategies and a model that has us looking inside our thoughts!

But, before we look at that,  let’s begin by considering what we mean by ‘conflict’. In the profile conflict is defined as ‘a difference of opinions involving strong emotions.’

The reminder here is that in many ways, conflict is unavoidable. its part of life. We’re bound to disagree with each other about things from time to time and when we do, our emotions will almost certainly bubble up to the surface!

Conflict is human…but is it helpful?

Patrick Lencioni, in his book ‘The Five Dysfunctions Of A Team’ makes the point:

‘All good relationships, the ones that last over time, REQUIRE productive conflict in order to grow. This is true in marriage, parenthood, friendship and certainly business’.

Patrick Lencioni, in his book ‘The Five Dysfunctions Of A Team’

Require? So, what he’s saying is that good quality (productive) conflict is actually essential. It strengthens relationships. It builds and cements trust in relationships because people are being open and honest with each other AND looking to resolve problems collaboratively.

But conflict doesn’t come easily for most people. It hasn’t to me! We have to learn how to ‘do’ productive conflict.

But how do we do learn?

Well, a starting point is to recognise the difference between productive and unproductive conflict responses. Everything starts with awareness.  We need to realise and appreciate that our behavioural responses are driven by our ‘automatic thoughts’. In other words, what we say to ourselves based on our beliefs and assumptions….most of which is automatic and outside of our conscious awareness.

The Everything DiSC Productive Conflict profile offers some real gems here. It can be a part of the process that helps people learn how to ‘do’ constructive conflict behaviours. It’s a really important part of the solution!

As well as increasing self-awareness, as we work through the profile we’re presented with 20 typical ‘destructive responses’ that show up frequently in conflict situations.  We’re asked to look through the list and choose the three destructive behaviours that other people do that most bother us.  Then, we’re asked to look through the list again and choose the three destructive behaviours that we know WE do most in conflict situations. I found this very revealing!! My partner, Tony, and I each completed the profile assessment when this profile was first launched and wow, when we worked through the profile together, we certainly had some really interesting discussions and insights! 

There’s a broader description in the profile, for each of the twenty typical destructive responses outlined, with a couple of typical automatic thoughts that might lead to this destructive  response.

Here are a few examples of  some destructive (unproductive conflict) responses with automatic thoughts. I’ve chosen these ones because they particularly resonated with me:

  • Arguing – (automatic thought….‘there’s no way I’m backing down’ and ‘I don’t get it/you. I’m obviously right’)
  • Defensiveness – (automatic thought….‘I shouldn’t be blamed for this. This isn’t my fault’)
  • Caving in – (automatic thought….‘I don’t want to upset anyone. Putting up a fight isn’t worth it’)
  • Becoming overly dramatic – (automatic thought….‘Everyone hates me. This situation is awful/hopeless’)

Once we’ve become more aware of the automatic thoughts that are driving our destructive behaviours, we’re encouraged to take a step back and ‘reframe’ the thought. In other words to consider it from a different, more helpful angle/perspective. The more we learn how to do this ‘reframing’ over time, the easier it becomes and the more automatic our new thought becomes. We are training our brain to think and respond differently! This starts to generate different, more helpful neurochemistry into our system. 

This is the beginning of the more productive conflict.

Towards the end of the profile, we’re asked to rate (from easy to difficult) 16 productive responses.

Here are four examples of the sixteen ones (the productive conflict responses)  that I particularly like:

  • Taking ownership of your part of the problem
  • Determining the root of the problem
  • Communicating openly and honestly
  • Separating emotions from facts

The profile also highlights some key ‘cornerstone principles’ when it comes to conflict. Two particularly important ones are:

  • People will have different responses to conflict based on their DiSC behavioural style as well as their upbringing, their life experiences and the context in which conflict is taking place.

  • Whilst it would be wonderful to think we can control how others respond to conflict; the truth is that the solution to making conflict productive will always start with ourselves! Ultimately what drives destructive conflict behaviours is the way we frame things internally. In other words, our thoughts, beliefs, assumptions – our internal dialogue.

In conclusion, productive conflict is possible! We’re looking to achieve constructive, respectful communication in which we seek to understand  different viewpoints and are focused on creating collaborative solutions. 

Emotionally Intelligent behaviour is achieved when we’re aware of the destructive thoughts that are fuelling our behaviour and are open to  accessing more helpful perspectives.

Learn more about the Everything DiSC Productive Conflict profile, take a look at the sample reports, and learn about purchasing options.