Constructive Conflict vs Destructive Conflict: Managing Conflict Effectively
‘Conflict is resolved not through compromise, but through invention.’ – Mary Parker Follett
Conflict is inevitable and can be a factor for growth in healthy relationships. It’s how effective we are at managing conflict that determines future progress and deeper understanding. So what’s the difference between constructive conflict and destructive conflict?
The goal of conflict resolution is to be effective at being able to have difficult conversations, not necessarily avoiding them.
These moments bring about critical tension. You might be asking yourself what that really means…
Critical tension is when there is a challenge or problem at hand and, instead of running away from it, we approach that pivotal moment knowing that on the other side of it is a better way forward. This is how true change happens and highlights the human struggles, big and small, that we can experience in so many ways.
In order to understand this in more detail, we need to explore constructive conflict and destructive conflict.
What Is Constructive Conflict?
Constructive conflict is usually characterized by more adaptive and collaborative behaviours. Whilst there may be some difference of opinion, the purpose of this approach is to use calm, effective problem-solving and aim for mutually beneficial outcomes.
This approach can help maintain good relationships and develop a greater empathy and understanding of others. We need to tap into our emotional intelligence to show we have enough self-awareness and a willingness to understand something from someone else’s perspective. Whilst we don’t have to agree 100% in all situations, we can commit to achieving a way forward through problem-solving.
What Is Destructive Conflict?
Destructive conflict can be categorized into two ways:
Escalation (such as hostile and angry exchanges) or Avoidance (such as walking away or indirect conflict). Escalation can stem from a desire to win an argument instead of finding a solution to the problem. Avoidance may arise from one party thinking the effort to resolve the conflict may not be worth it. This highlights a lack of communication or commitment.
Both of these types of destructive conflict can result in further problems. Characteristics of destructive conflict include repetitive patterns of behaviour such as criticism, threats or rejection. Many of these behaviours can escalate problems and lead to unresolved conflicts.
‘Not everyone thinks the way you think, knows the things you know, believes the things you believe, nor acts the way you would act. Remember this and you will go a long way in getting along with people.’ – Arthur Forman.
Constructive Conflict, it Takes Awareness
Sometimes the things that you say can add fuel to the fire and increase the conflict. Avoid preaching, ordering, threatening, interfering or accusing. These tones in communication can make situations worse and lead to further problems.
Using categorizing phrases, such as, ‘You always…’ may anger the other person. Also, do not diagnose what you consider their problem to be as this may lead to further difficulties.
The origins of many of our disputes are based on fear, whether it is fear of change, difference or not being understood or heard. We all seek reassurance that our points of view are valued and respected. Having constructive conversations can help in managing conflict and lead to successful outcomes.
How to Create an Environment for Constructive Conflict
This can be difficult during a heated exchange but using effective listening skills will ease communication and lead to better conflict resolution.
Do not interrupt when the other person is speaking but repeat and clarify the issue being raised. By mirroring the points raised, the other person will feel heard and respected.
Allow the other person to let out all the tension. Try asking, ‘What else?’, to gain a further understanding of the issue.
Opinions are personal and subjective, they are neither right nor wrong. You don’t have to agree but should attempt to acknowledge the other person’s perspective.
Try and understand the feelings of the other person to determine what is at the heart of the problem.
Once you have a good understanding of the issues, offer your perspective. Identify any common values or points of agreement that can allow you to find a way forward.
‘There are three ways of dealing with difference: domination, compromise and integration.’ – Mary Parker Follett
In the Mary Parker Follett examples above, domination usually results in a win/lose situation where one party has the upper hand.
Compromise means that all parties have to concede in some way ultimately creating a lose/lose situation. In both of these cases, it is likely that conflict will reappear in some form in the future.
Integration is the only win/win example that can lead to a clear resolution for all parties. This involves problem-solving based on shared values and goals for managing conflict.
Anticipating Potential Conflict
‘A bad argument is a failed endeavour to communicate.’ – The School of Life
Communication is the key to personal and professional relationships. In healthy communication channels, you can anticipate potential problems or conflicts and resolve them before they become an issue. Keep the lines of communication open and recognise any dissonance or patterns in behaviour.
If your approach isn’t working and you feel you need more help, ask a mediator to facilitate discussions to highlight points of concern. All parties can then generate ideas for solutions to the key concerns and select mutually agreeable solutions, supported by the mediator.
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