Two people speaking to each other in a coffee shop.

Conflict Can Be Good

What do you think of when you hear the word conflict?

Fighting? War?

Anger? Frustration?

Many people view conflict as bad, negative, and tend to avoid it. They believe that conflicts lead to “ugly” feelings, mistrust, damage to relationships, etc [1, 3]. True, there are indeed many possible negative consequences. Given this, can conflict be good? As with almost anything, conflict has advantages and disadvantages. So, the answer is yes – conflict can be good!

Conflict has the capacity not only to cause harm and pain, but also to create a positive change for us [1, 3]. A possible reason for its bad reputation is that conflicts are often poorly managed and handled in painful ways. Under appropriate conditions, conflict can provide important benefits.

10 Benefits of conflict

So, what are these beneficial effects? Here’s some of the advantages that well-managed conflict might include [1, 2, 3, 4]:

  1. Conflicts focus attention on problems that need to be solved, but which have previously been ignored or neglected.
  2. Creation of energy, focus, and the motivation needed for solving problems.
  3. Released negative emotions (anger, tension, anxiety, sadness…) and better control of emotions.
  4. Conflicts may prevent disagreement from becoming more intense or damaging.
  5. Enhanced quality of many decisions– the critique of someone’s ideas by others encourages a more thorough evaluation of them.
  6. Also, discussion of incompatible ideas may result in adoption of a more open-minded approach to issues and problems.
  7. Facilitation of understanding of other people’s perspectives on the problems.
  8. Increased closeness with each other and relationships clear of irritations. If the conflict is among groups, it leads to increased loyalty and cohesiveness. This further results in enhanced performance and productivity.
  9. Stimulation of curiosity, interest, and information search. Conflicts also encourage the consideration of new ideas and approaches and leads to facilitation of innovation and change.
  10. Growth– conflicts may promote cognitive, social, and moral development.

Conflict and emotions

So, under what conditions can conflict be beneficial? Let’s start with emotions. Conflict often creates the arousal of powerful negative emotions: anger, frustration, suspicion, etc. Also, it can cause stress and anxiety, which can lead to loss of sleep, decrease in productivity, and failure to be innovative or creative [2, 4].

At the same time, conflict situations often require the careful processing of complex information such as the opponents’ motives and intentions, their strategy, and the impact of their moves. This means that in order to solve the conflict constructively, you need to put in a great deal of cognitive effort. However, the likelihood of effective completion of these cognitive tasks is significantly reduced by the presence of powerful emotions [4]. So, what can we do about that?


A great way to master your skills in managing conflicts and making them constructive is to participate in Nobel Explorers, the first international STEM camp that focuses on soft skills as much as on the hard skills. In Nobel Explorers, we are aware of how powerful conflict can be and how important it is in negotiation. That’s why participants of all our projects work hard on mastering their conflict resolution skills with the help of our soft skills facilitators. And they earn cool badges like these below while doing that, so it is also fun!

Soft Skill Badge awarded to those who are able to identify if it's necessary to cool off or address the difference in opinion right awaySoft Skill Badge awarded to those are able to identify the point and nature of contention for participants in the conflict Soft Skill Badge awarded to those who are able to confirm with the other party if there is really a difference in opinion


How to deal with negative emotions

How can we maximize the probability that conflict will produce positive outcomes? In order for conflict to have benefits, it’s important either to avoid the arousal of negative emotions or to take active steps to reduce their presence [1].

Two foxes charging at each other.

It doesn’t have to look like this!

 

We can avoid arousal of strong feelings of anger and related emotions. That can be done in two ways:

  • Putting effort into inducing participants in the conflict to focus on the potential gains that may be obtained from a favorable resolution. In other words, try hard to show the participant(s) in conflict the advantages of choosing the resolution you think is best.
  • Providing participants with information as to why an opponent has adopted a particular stance. Here, you don’t need a third party – you can enumerate for the opponent arguments for the position you represent. This way, their reactions may be considerably more favorable and less emotional.

In many situations, it’s impossible to prevent the arousal of negative emotions among the persons in conflict. In such cases, there are two steps that can reduce such reactions:

  • Induction of positive affective states that are incompatible with anger or frustration. You can’t be happy and angry at the same time, right?
  • Exposing persons in a conflict situation to mild flattery, a small gift, etc. For example, lower your voice and tell them how good they are at managing conflict.

Now when you know how to handle negative emotions in conflicts, there’s one more thing –practice! The more you practice, the better you will be.

But why is this so important?

Conflict is inevitable

The reality is that conflict is part of all our relationships – at home, at school, at work… This being the case, it’s best to accept its inevitability, understand that it isn’t necessarily bad, and to practice managing it.


Other than learning how to handle differences in opinion, in Nobel Explorers you will also be able to practice a very cool skill that will help you turn every conflict into a constructive one and find a win-win solution for it.

Remember, The World Economic Forum listed soft skills as the skills you’ll need to thrive in the future since a lot of the jobs will be automated and taken by AI. One of those skills is negotiation and it has a lot to do with managing conflict! So, sign up for Nobel Explorers and master your future-ready skills!


Resources:

[1] Baron, R. A. (1991). Positive effects of conflict: A cognitive perspective. Employee Responsibilities and Rights Journal,4(1), 25-36. doi:10.1007/bf01390436

[2] Johnson, D. W., & Johnson, F. P. (2013). Joining together: Group theory and group skills (12th ed.). Boston: Pearson.

[3] Rebroadcast: Discussing Conflict With Clair Canfield On Monday’s Access Utah [Audio blog interview]. (2016, December 6). Retrieved July 20, 2018, from http://www.upr.org/post/rebroadcast-discussing-conflict-clair-canfield-mondays-access-utah

[4] Zillmann, D. (1979). Hostility and Aggression. Hillsdale, NJ: Erlbaum.

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