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How to Recognise and Fix Destructive Conflicts

Everyone experiences conflict in life, it’s unavoidable. Every person is unique and sees the world and all aspects of life differently.

People therefore shouldn’t try and avoid conflict; they should learn how to deal with their conflicts constructively.

Far too often conflicts become destructive. Destructive conflict can lead to negative outcomes and a whole raft of knock-on issues. Such as:

  • Frustration and anger
  • Bitterness and resentment
  • Damaged relationships
  • Poor ongoing communication
  • No hope of a positive resolution
  • People feeling like they need answers

Constructive conflict on the other hand is resolving disagreements in a positive way. This involves positive communication which benefits all parties involved. Constructive conflicts usually end in a win-win situation.

Importantly, creating constructive conflict isn’t about making people agree with each other. It’s about understanding and accepting that they just see the situation differently.

During constructive conflict resolutions people are likely to feel calm, relaxed, in control, empathetic and can show genuine emotion.

How to communicate to get a constructive outcome

To avoid destructive conflicts, or to rectify a situation, it helps to:

  • Ask questions
  • Listen to the other person and respond to what they are saying
  • Plan the conversation in advance
  • Prepare the venue
  • Anticipate potential problems and plan effective resolutions ahead of time

If the situation is becoming destructive, ask a third party mediator to facilitate the discussion.

A real-life example

Let’s look at a recent case to bring this to life.

Woes in the workplace

As it unfolded…

Employee 1 (E1) needs a report for a customer, however employee 2 (E2) is not producing it within the required timeframe. They have sent emails to each other, but frustration is now brewing.

E1 knows that if the customer does not get the report by the end of the week, they will lose them as a client.

E2 is having to pick up a lot of extra work as their team is two members down. E2 doesn’t see preparing this report for E1 as a priority.

Although they both work for the same company, E1 and E2 are in different departments that have different objectives. Neither party understands the pressure that the other is under.

E1 feels that they have given E2 enough time and is getting fed up with their excuses. E1 decides to approach E2 in the open office in front of other staff. E2 is seated when E1 comes over…

E1’s first comment is, “are you trying to make the business go under?”

E2 automatically feels defensive and on the backfoot.

As the conversation progresses, both parties start to raise their voices and E2 stands up at their desk to join E1 face to face. Others around them start to feel uncomfortable and another employee comes between the pair.

Although the situation was not aggressive, E1 appeared demanding and accusing. E2 appeared defensive and the accused.

Following this exchange, E2 went to work at home and E1 went to a separate office. Neither party knew the next steps regarding the report as there had been no resolution.

A more effective approach

So, how could both parties have handled this differently? How could communication have been constructive instead of destructive?

As mediators we would have advised E1 and E2 to plan and prepare the discussion accordingly:

  1. Set a convenient time to have a conversation
  2. Arrange a private space
  3. Invite a mediator to facilitate the conversation
  4. Give each person time to plan and prepare for the conversation


  1. Remain seated during the conversation
  2. Listen and respond to what the other is saying, not what you think is being said
  3. Develop an understanding of the other person’s position
  4. Be open to what is being said, even though you may not agree
  5. Have respect for the other person and their views
  6. Work towards a resolution together, setting timeframes and outcomes

The preparation side of things is important. This gives both parties the chance to consider what a successful outcome looks like. This in turn will help them manage their emotions around the situation as they’re focused on reaching a positive resolution.

This, coupled with knowing how to conduct oneself during the session, provides the best chance for a win-win outcome. Not only would this approach have likely resolved the report issue in the above case, but it also would have paved the way for a much stronger relationship between E1 and E2 in the future.

Can we help you?

Hopefully this has whetted your appetite to learn more about how you can better manage conflicts for yourself, and how you can help manage the conflicts of others in your workplace as you go about your job.

Well, we have good news! We have four new training courses available:

  • Conflict Coaching
  • Mental Health and Complex Conversations
  • Mental Health For Managers
  • Opening the Door to Dialogue

Find out all about each course here – ADR Mediation training courses or email and we will send you all the detail.

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