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5 Tips to Turn Conflict into Creativity

When someone rocks the boat, don't think of it as a bad thing; it could be one of your best opportunities to get a fresh perspective.
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You've just stomped into your office and slammed the door. You're locked in battle with one of your colleagues or employees over how best to solve a business problem. You feel so angry you could spit nails.

First, take a deep breath. Second, consider this: A conflict within your company is one of the greatest opportunities for creative thought you'll ever have.

When everyone is on the same page, your organization will tend to go along smoothly with no one rocking the boat and no surprises. When an open conflict breaks out, suddenly everyone's on the alert, and unspoken rules get called into question. "Conflict on its own is neither good nor bad--it depends on how it's managed," says Kaveh Mir, author of Wars at Work: An Action Guide for Resolving Workplace Battles. "Differences in wants and needs can act as an obstacle to reaching your goals. Or, handled well, they can become a hidden resource that brings out innovation."

Admittedly, when you're in full-blown conflict with someone you work with, it may be tough to see that as an opportunity to take your company in a more creative direction. Yet the opportunity really might be there. Mir provides these steps to help you find it:

1. Make sure you have the right conditions

First, there needs to be time to discuss and debate the issue. If an immediate decision is needed, you'll need to find a way to suppress the conflict or put it off temporarily. Second, both you and your colleague need to care about your relationship, and, though you may be angry with each other, you have enough trust to have an honest conversation. "If we don't trust each other enough to talk about our real needs, we can't engage with each other," Mir says.

2. Spend time face to face

Ideally, arrange to meet several times with the other person, preferably in a casual setting. If in-person meetings aren't possible, pick up the phone. "Email, text, and social media interactions are easily misinterpreted," Mir says.

3. Work at listening

Your next step is to really listen to what the other person has to say. "We all learn how to speak and read and write, but not enough of us have been trained in listening," Mir says. The problem is that people become even more frustrated and entrenched when they don't feel like they've been heard. So make sure to let those on the other side know you've heard and understand their point of view, although you may not agree with it.

4. Learn the other person's paradigm

"If you and I have a conflict and we don't understand each others' points of view, it's probably because we're working from two different sets of assumptions, and what's obvious in one isn't obvious in the other," Mir says. "If you pause and try to expose yourself to that different paradigm, you might discover things you never knew existed."

Understanding the other person's paradigm does not mean accepting it, or that person's point of view. But learning to understand that point of view should give you a whole new perspective on the problem at hand--that's when creativity can happen.

5. Decide who cares most about the outcome

Will it make a bigger difference to the other person than to you how the conflict is resolved? If the answer to that is yes, then consider giving in. "If I realize that it's important for you to achieve your needs and desires, and in this instance it's less important to me, this is a great time to cooperate, and hope that in the next round, when you see something is important to me, you'll return the favor," Mir says.

Not only will this give you the chance to truly learn the other person's paradigm and think creatively about how to do things, he says, "It's a fantastic opportunity for promoting trust."

IMAGE: stevensnodgrass/Flickr
Last updated: Jun 12, 2013

MINDA ZETLIN | Columnist | Co-author, 'The Geek Gap'

Minda Zetlin is a business technology writer and speaker, co-author of The Geek Gap, and former president of the American Society of Journalists and Authors. Like this post? Sign up here for a once-a-week email and you'll never miss her columns.

The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.



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