How to Be Constructive During Conflict, Part 1


Get used to it. Conflict is inevitable at work (and at home), but it doesn’t have to be destructive. Here are the three main concepts to keep in mind as you fight the battle to conquer conflict:

  1. Focus on ideas versus personalities.
  2. Choose constructive responses.
  3. Avoid destructive conflict tactics.

Focusing on Ideas vs. Personalities

You’ll know you’re focusing on personalities during a conflict if you find yourself blaming the other person. You assign negative motives to him or her. And you believe there is something inherently “wrong” with the other person.

When you think of the other person as the problem, you view the conflict as his or her problem rather than a mutual problem you need to work together to solve.

But when you focus on ideas or interests, rather than personalities, you work together as a team. You take responsibility for finding a solution, and you work together with the other person to problem-solve. By focusing on your mutual interests, you turn the conflict into an opportunity to improve your relationship.

Choosing Constructive Responses

Destructive conflict tactics may be the only ones you’ve learned, but they break down relationships instead of building them up. We’ll talk more about what those look like in a future issue of our newsletter.

Constructive responses to conflict can be either active or passive. Active constructive responses to conflict include: reaching out, perspective-taking, expressing emotions, and creating solutions. Here are some tips for each type of response:

Reaching out

  • Make the first move to break a stalemate or make amends.
  • Overtly invite the other person to address the conflict.
  • Set your intentions to address any emotional damage.
  • Offer to take responsibility, and apologize.
  • Express interest in resolving the issue.

What would Shawn say to reach out?

I would very much appreciate an opportunity to discuss this with you again. I’m sure we can reach common ground.


  • Put yourself in the other person’s shoes.
  • Try to understand the other person’s point of view.
  • Listen for understanding.
  • Check for understanding and satisfaction.
  • Demonstrate empathy.

What would Shawn say to gain perspective?

It sounds like you are frustrated by the way I responded. Is that right?

Expressing emotions

  • Talk honestly.
  • Express your thoughts and feelings openly.
  • Become aware.
  • Be transparent.
  • Own your feelings.

What would Shawn say to express emotions?

I have to tell you, I am feeling uncomfortable about having this conversation, but it’s important to me.

Creating solutions

  • Brainstorm with the other person.
  • Ask questions.
  • Explore multiple possibilities and ideas.
  • Analyze and discuss the viability of all the possible solutions.
  • Seek agreement on which solutions to try.

What would Shawn say to encourage creating solutions?

I welcome all of your ideas.

We also have recommendations for passive constructive responses to conflict, which may feel more comfortable for those of you with introverted tendencies. Constructive passive responses include reflective thinking, delaying responding, and adapting. We’ll address those in the next issue of our newsletter.

Becoming Conflict Competent

It is true that emotions can run high during a conflict. No matter how someone else behaves, though, he or she is not responsible for the way you feel. You can choose to make your emotions work for you instead of against you.

It is liberating to know you have the power to take responsibility for your emotions, stay in control, and keep your composure. Conflict-competence is a choice, and you have the power to change!

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