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How To Turn Conflict Into A Communication Tool

Many people try to avoid conflicts at work. But if you know the right way to lodge an objection, it can actually smooth the way for better communication

Source | | ANETT GRANT

Last year, I was working with leaders who had recently joined an Israeli company. One of them said to me, “Anett, I used to work for a Midwestern company, and now I’m working for a company that yells and pounds the table in meetings–you can even hear it on the phone! What do I do?”

“Well, what happens after those meetings?” I asked. “They all go out for coffee!” she told me.

This is a texbook example of constructive conflict. Yes, it might have been emotionally charged and intense, but everyone respected each other enough to be friendly afterward. You might feel that it’s hard to see conflict as anything but a barrier to communication, but if you use it the right way, it can be an effective tool. Here are some tips on how to do just that.


Intense conflicts can be civil. The key is not to let it get personal–which means making sure that you direct any criticism toward ideas, not people. Many of us know to avoid telling someone, “I don’t think you’ve done your research on this issue” or, “How could you possibly come to that conclusion?!” since these clearly sound like an attack on the person. But finding alternative phrasing isn’t always easy. When in doubt, delete any second-person (“you”/”your”) phrases from your vocabulary, and start with “I” phrase that zeroes in on the underlying concept. For example, “I struggle with that conclusion.” Now you can center the discussion around the conclusion itself–not the person who proposed it.

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