Engaging in Productive Conflict – Why and How

When I work with teams, I ask members to share the first three words that come to mind when they think of “conflict.”  Typical responses include: arguments, war, uncomfortable, frustration, avoidance, difference of opinion, futile, waste of time and fear.
team conflict
The ability to engage in productive, constructive conflict in a team or between individuals begins with a change in mindset.  Mindset drives behavior.  Conflict is necessary.  Conflict is healthy.  Conflict provides an opportunity for us to make the best possible decisions because we are tapping into the ideas, opinions, needs, and expertise of everyone involved in the discussion.

I am an Accredited Facilitator with the Five Behaviors of a Cohesive Team™.  The first behavior is the ability to develop vulnerability-based trust.  Team members are not hesitant to share their weaknesses, admit their mistakes, ask for help and be open with their real thoughts and feelings.  This level of trust creates an environment where no one is holding back.  There is no “meeting after the meeting.”  Members engage in healthy, productive, ideological conflict in a search for truth.

As we create an environment where everyone is weighing in, Scrumteam members begin to buy into the decisions and actions brought forward within the team. It is important that everyone feels their opinions have been heard, considered and understood – even if, in the end, they are not used. This level of clarity and commitment ensures that everyone is on the same page.  Because members are aligned, it is easier to hold one another accountable for what has already been agreed upon. The focus is on the collective results of the team rather than individual agendas or egos.

Conflict is a difference of opinions involving strong emotions.  Productive conflict is focused on concepts and ideas, avoiding mean-spirited personal attacks. The sole purpose is to produce the best possible solution in the shortest period of time.

Engaging in productive conflict is essential, but not easy.  Several barriers must be overcome including the destructive tendencies of different personality styles, organizational culture, and a lack of trust.

Using Everything DiSC® styles, let’s look at the productive and destructive tendencies of each style when members find themselves in conflict situations.


Productive Behaviors

Destructive Behaviors

D – Dominance Straightforward
Acknowledge tough issues
Engage in objective debate
Overpower others
I – Influence Communicate empathy
Encourage open dialogue
Let others know how they are feeling
Overly emotional
Gloss over tension
Talk over others
S – Steadiness Tactful, listen well
Find compromise
Show flexibility
Go along to get along
Let issues simmer below the surface
C – Conscientiousness Find the root cause of the issue
Stay objective – focus on facts
Problem solver
Overly critical
Overanalyzes situation