Most of us don't like conflict, but it's an inevitable part of the human condition. It doesn't have to derail our productivity, though–if we can find constructive ways to deal with it.
Conflict and productivity
A while back, a question was raised in the TPW community about conflict and how it affects our productivity. I’m not an expert on conflict resolution, but I did some research and thought I’d share some of my findings that we can all think about together.
What is conflict?
In the dictionary, it's defined as a serious disagreement or argument, typically a protracted one; a condition in which a person experiences a clash of opposing wishes or needs; an incompatibility between two or more opinions, principles, or interests.
Conflict is inevitable. Humans by nature experience opposing values, wishes, or needs–both among ourselves and within our self. The effect of conflict depends on how we handle it, which depends on how we think about it.
There are differences between immediate conflict and long-term conflict or a conflict-ridden environment. Immediate conflict can sometimes pop up suddenly, catch us by surprise, unprepared, and creates that fight-or-flight response that’s hard on us physically and physiologically. Long-term conflict and being in a conflict-ridden environment wears us out and wears us down, even if we’re not directly involved.
Conflict can occur anywhere in our lives. At home, we can experience conflict with spouse, kids, parents/siblings. At work, conflict may arise with a boss, colleagues, employees, even clients or customers. This is a big issue for workplace productivity. According to one source, “Studies show that 60 to 80% of all difficulties at a company arise from the strained relationships employees encounter with each other on a regular basis.”
Even conflict that doesn't directly involve you can still affect your productivity. According to one writer, “When conflict involves the use of ‘heavy contentious tactics,' it can cause the individuals or groups involved in the conflict as well as individuals or groups not involved in the conflict to divert time and resources away from other needs.” This is especially true in a situation where you are responsible for others, or feel that you are.
How does conflict affect productivity?
“Conflict’s Positive and Negative Aspects” describes both negative and positive effects of conflict. Negative effects include distraction from important objectives and short and long term effects on physical and psychological health. But, the article's writer points out, conflict can also have positive effects that can include:
- “Conflict contributes to social change ensuring both interpersonal and intergroup dynamics remain fresh and reflective of current interests and realities.
- Conflict serves to “discourage premature group decision making,” forcing participants in the decision-making process to explore the issues and interests at stake.
- Conflict allows for the reconciliation of the parties’ concerns, which can lead to an agreement benefiting both parties’ needs, and often their relationship and organizations.
- Conflict strengthens intragroup unity by providing an outlet for group members to discuss and negotiate their interests within the group. Without intragroup conflict, the health of the group typically declines.
- Conflict between groups produces intra-group unity as the conflict provides the opportunity for increased intra-group cooperation while working towards the group’s common goal for the conflict’s outcome.”
In the business context, another source notes that “A recent study from MIT reveals that groups that are more likely to argue with each other (such as groups made of men and women, or people with different backgrounds) give rise to more conflicts, but also lead to 41% more productivity.”
Knowing conflict can have positive effects doesn’t mean it’s easy or that we don’t have to learn constructive ways to deal with it. But it is a good starting point for developing an attitude towards conflict that doesn’t become self-defeating.
How to deal with conflict
Manage your own thinking
We can’t control what other people do. We can only control what we do, and what we do comes out of what we think. Learning to manage our thinking, to direct it in positive and productive ways, is key to dealing with conflict in our lives.
“Research suggests that an individual’s perspective regarding conflict strongly impacts their ability to effectively address it. As our perspective of conflict charts our path for engaging and navigating our differences, our view of conflict must be balanced, realistic, and flexible. Such a perspective recognizes that conflict is a normal, natural aspect of human interaction that inevitably manifests to varying degrees in almost everyone’s life. The perspective also understands that, though conflict has potential costs, it does not have to be negative or destructive. When properly understood and addressed constructively, conflict can be managed in a way that minimizes its potential, but not inevitable, negative impacts.”
- Follow the 5/5 approach: If it won’t matter in 5 years, don’t worry about it for more than 5 minutes.
- Look for the positive
- In the conflict itself – What positive results could come from the conflict if it’s handled well?
- In the people involved – Remind yourself of something good about the other person, and try to see things from their perspective (Source: “How to Cope with Conflict Without Drama”)
Find productive ways to respond
- Stay calm – Go to your separate corners for a few minutes to take a breath. But even if nobody else will, you can and should, for your sake (lowering stress and being at peace) as well as for the sake of finding resolution
- Separate the conflict from the personhood of those involved.
- Put it in writing – Have each person write out their view of the situation
- Identify and articulate points of agreement
- Find a mediator – The mediator should be someone who’s not emotionally invested who can mediate a resolution
- Listen deeply and actively, to understand rather than to refute. Try to set aside defensiveness and listen.
In tense discussions, it’s important to acknowledge the feelings of each party involved and use reflective language to show that they’ve been heard. Oftentimes, long-felt, harbored emotions originating from other sources can ignite miscommunications and set off a firestorm between two people. “There’s a lot of ‘he-said, she-said,’ and people getting caught up in their feelings,” shares Lopez of the emotional interactions she witnesses between her students, parents, even teachers. Her job is not to get embroiled. “You need to be compassionate and empathetic,” she says.
Source: “6 tips for dealing with conflict”
- Carter McNamara, MBA, PhD (Source: “How to Deal with Conflict”) offers several suggestions for dealing with conflict with another person, including:
- “Give the other person time to vent. Do not interrupt the person or judge what he/she is saying.
- Verify that you are accurately hearing each other.
- Discuss the matter on which you disagree, not the nature of the other person.
- Ask “What can we do fix the problem?” Focus on actions you both can do.”
Take positive action and be willing to be the “bigger” person – not to show the other person up, but for the sake of being the person you want to be, no matter what others do.
“Make the first move toward reconciliation. Try to repair emotional damage caused by the conflict by getting the communication started again. Ask yourself, “How do I want to be viewed after the conflict is over?” (Source: “6 Ways to Make Conflict Productive”)
A few years ago, a serious conflict developed between me and a good friend. My greatest regret is that I let my emotions get the better of me and became reactive, in many ways acting in a way that’s not reflective of the kind of person I want to be. I felt like I betrayed my own integrity by letting the circumstance dictate my behavior.
How to stay productive even in the midst of conflict
- Find a small area you can control – clean up your workspace, create a peaceful area
- Take care of yourself. Especially if the conflict is caused by a crisis, take the time you need to take care of yourself. “Prioritizing self-care is crucial when you’re experiencing turmoil, and your professional life will benefit in the long run.” (Source: “How to Stay Productive at Work When a Personal Crisis is Taking Over Your Life”
- Take a realistic approach to what you can do and how
- “When you’re short on mental energy, breaking projects down into small, manageable, and easily attainable milestones can help sustain your focus.” (Source: “How to Stay Productive at Work When a Personal Crisis is Taking Over Your Life”
What do you think?
How do you handle conflict, either personal or professional? Where do you struggle? What are your best tips for managing conflict and staying productive? Please share them in the comments section below this post or in The Productive Woman Community Facebook group or send me an email.
Resources and Links
- “Cut the Conflicts and Improve Productivity with These 5 Tips”
- “Conflict’s Positive and Negative Aspects”
- “How to Deal with Conflict”
- “How to Cope with Conflict Without Drama”
- “6 Ways to Make Conflict Productive”
- “How to Stay Productive at Work When a Personal Crisis is Taking Over Your Life”
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