There are two universal truths about conflict: 1) everyone experiences it, and 2) no one really likes it. Conflict, at best, is a disagreement; at worst it can be intensely destructive. But can conflict also be a positive experience? I believe it can be a constructive – or even welcome – experience in addition to being a significant catalyst for growth.

Conflict presents an opportunity to expand our understanding and grow as people and professionals. When a disagreement arises, it brings the chance for us to learn something new, as long as we are open to seeing the conflict as an opportunity and do not allow ourselves to engage in a battle of opinion. In order to get to a point where conflict is an appreciated (if not welcomed) aspect of your life, you need to take steps to change the way you view it and what you do when you experience it. A change in your perspective and action will lead to the ability to turn almost any conflict into the type that is productive and instrumental for promoting growth.

Before we move on, let me emphasize that I am not suggesting you start disagreeing with people simply for the sake of creating conflict, nor am I suggesting that you must have it in order to grow. I am suggesting that conflict can be a tool for personal and professional growth. When it serves as a catalyst for growth, conflict becomes a positive experience.

When we are faced with conflict we usually react to it. A reaction is an impulsive, subconscious process that takes into account only a narrow view of the overall situation and typically overlooks the true issue. A reaction generates a quick-fix that does not address any underlying cause of the conflict. Reactions, therefore, rarely result in long term resolutions to the conflict, and are likely to cause regret later. By contrast, a response is a mindful action that is implemented after careful consideration of the entire situation – or as much of the situation as can be examined. Responses take more time, are less emotionally driven than reactions, and typically result in long term resolution of the conflict.

When we react to something, we allow the situation to influence our decisions, which we usually make rapidly and without conscious thought. Responding involves exerting conscious influence over the situation and returning a thoughtful answer that appropriately addresses and resolves the cause underlying the conflict. Before we can conquer conflict, we have to learn to stop reacting to it and to start responding to it, which transforms the conflict into an opportunity for growth. This is much easier said than done. Before we can alter our reactions, we need to understand what they are and why they occur, then look at alternative actions we can take and what those alternatives might mean in the longer term. In other words, we need to relearn at a conscious level how we react to conflict subconsciously, and then change that reaction to a response. In short; we need to take the emotionality out of our reaction to conflict.

For most of us, conflict is something we avoid, largely due to the fear of the contentious debate and destruction we know it can bring. And when we react impulsively to conflict we can unintentionally turn it into a contentious debate, which then propagates the notion that conflict is always a bad thing. In essence, the experience becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. What if we could change that? What if instead of becoming embroiled in contentious debate we could engage in a more productive dialogue? What if instead of reacting to conflict you could respond to it and make it more productive?

It is quite normal to feel disappointment or anger when things don’t go the way we want or need them to go or are not as we wish they were. The real question is whether we allow the anger or disappointment we feel to lead into a truly negative situation. Does it have to lead down that path? What does that disappointment or anger do for – or to – us? Is there a better way to handle the emotions that frequently characterize conflict? Again, I believe there is, and I know I am not alone; if you didn’t believe this was possible, you wouldn’t still be reading.

The first step to doing this, and therefore to calming conflict, is to determine how you are reacting to the conflict and why you are reacting in that manner. In the heat of the moment, it is difficult to slow things down and think through the issues. It is much easier to allow the reaction to occur in the moment. Doing so, however, means that we later must deal with the aftermath, which is sometimes worse than the original conflict. Making an effort to stop and think about your reactions before responding generates the opportunity for growth. Reacting frequently leads to regret and frustration; Responding leads to new understanding and growth.

Once you have consciously identified your reaction to conflict, it is time to go to work substituting a thoughtful response. This requires you to focus on the underlying issue and the facts surrounding that issue as well as the result you want or need in responding to the conflict. Ask questions if you need more information but make a concerted effort to ensure that your response is thoughtful, appropriate, and moves the situation in a positive direction.

Take the time you need to think about the situation before discussing it. Taking a time out is especially helpful in cases where the other person is passionate about their perspective or there is heated debate about a given topic, but in no case is avoidance of the conflict an option you should consider. Take as broad a perspective as possible before responding. Again, this sounds much easier than it is, but with some practice you will be able to conquer those ineffective reactions and substitute productive responses. And this becomes rewarding: If you see the productive results of conflict as a success, you will appreciate the positive side of conflict. Once you have experienced success, you will look forward to the next successful outcome of conflict. There may even come a time when you look forward to conflict for the growth opportunities it brings.

Thoughtfully responding to conflict can lead to better understanding and growth for you as a person and professional. Carefully considering the situation and responding to it will help you resolve conflict in a much more productive and final manner than reacting to it. Additionally, this method of responding in a fact and information-based manner will result in group success.

Working with a coach can help you to look at your reactions objectively and set goals for you to strive towards in altering them so that you can conquer conflict. If you would like to learn more about how a coach can help you improve your interpersonal and professional effectiveness contact the coaches at Foresight Performance for a complimentary consultation.

Author's Bio: 

Ellen Smolko is a Professional and Interpersonal Effectiveness Coach.

Her philosophy and biographical information can be found at http://www.foresightperformance.com