Conflict prepares you for breakthroughs

© 2009, Doug Davin and Diana Morris

We’ve all got preconceived ideas about what relationships “should be” like or how teams “ought to” work. These expectations can cause us a lot of grief as relationship after relationship seems to fall short. But as we’ve seen, conflicts at work are a given. There are no perfect teams, managers, or employees, and it’s not possible to have a job where people never frustrate of disappoint you. And frustrating and distracting as they are, in the end conflicts can create better understanding, new discoveries, and tighter bonds.

To take it a step further, a relationship with no conflict is at a disadvantage, and may even be in serious trouble. Something’s not right. Someone’s biting their tongue, swallowing feelings, dismissing disappointments, or collecting all of them somewhere and setting themselves up for a break down, break up, or a white hot blow up.

Think of the employee who never complains about anything, week after week, month after month, year after year. No matter what gets piled on, no matter what disasters he faces, everything is “just great!” Until one day, during the company’s busiest season, he just up and leaves, with no explanation, maybe even no job waiting, perhaps taking trade secrets or business knowledge with him and leaving you in the lurch.

Or the person described as someone who “almost never gets upset, but when he does, you better run. It’s just terrifying.”

Or how about the couple who never seem to disagree about anything. Life bounces along agreeably for them, at least on the surface, until one day they give everyone the jaw-dropping news that divorce papers have been filed. “But we never even saw them fight! How is this possible?”

Wanted: creative tension
workplace without conflict is not a highly functioning one, and may even be missing an ingredient essential for progress: creative tension between people that over time, lifts each person, each relationship, each team, and then eventually the whole business to higher ground. With the right mindset and a little skill, conflict can be a truly powerful tool for building better understanding, stronger boundaries, clearer communication, greater respect, and even closeness on a team.

That usually gets people squirming. If we’re in a workshop, there’s a whole lot of harrumphing, eye rolling, arm crossing, and “Oh please” mumbling, “You just don’t know where I work.” But that’s just the point. We’ve been at this a long time, and we’ve seen conflict in every shape and size. We’ve tussled. We’ve won. We’ve lost. We’ve bargained hard. We’ve given in. We’ve duked it out. We’ve walked away.

And we’ve watched clients do all of the above too.

What all these experiences have taught us is that in the wake of conflict, so often there are new possibilities, fresh starts, and progress.

Someone hits a sensitive boundary or pushes a hot button. An issue smoldering under the surface sparks to life. An event triggers an ongoing difference of opinion about how to work out a problem. A poor communication style that makes every request sound like a demand rears its head.

The process of conflict isn’t fun. But once the dust settles and you stand up, you take a look around and realize:

The confrontation gave you a deeper understanding of your coworker’s point of view.

Conflict clarified to your client where your boundaries are and improved the relationship in the process.

Adversity stretched you, helping you grow and gather strength.

Conflict sparked a deep commitment to a cause or an idea that emboldened you to fight hard for what you believe is right.

Having to compromise made you more flexible and taught you patience.

You rose to the occasion and in the process, built some “If-I-could-handle-that-I-can-handle-anything” confidence. Conflict sharpened your vision, gave you strength and a new fire inside, and developed your character.

Like nothing else can
Conflict, adversity, compromise…these are all preparation for breakthroughs. In fact, in our experience, they’re pretty much required for progress. Conflicts with employees, supervisors, customers, and vendors are constantly lifting us to new heights, improving our listening skills, building our patience, strengthening our resolve, and improving (yes, improving) relationships…all in ways no other type of experience could.

Inspired by the words of the legendary Babe Ruth who once told a reporter, “Every strike brings me closer to the next home run,” we asked a few colleagues what adversity taught them. Listen to the earful of fresh ideas and insights we got:

• “I finally figured out what my grandmother meant when she said, ‘Smooth mountains give you nothing to grip onto as you climb.’ I grow very little when things are easy.”

• “My last manager was such a poor leader that I know today I could work for anyone. Thanks to her, I have tons more patience and self control.”

• “I really appreciate the people I work with now because I know what it’s like to work in a company where people backstab and gossip about each other.”

• “I’ve been through so many setbacks, from being fired to being transferred to losing key clients. One time I even spilled a glass of water on my Regional Director’s laptop while I was trying to help her find a file. She lost six months of work and emails. Today, it takes a lot to get me upset. Setbacks are more like a call to action: how do I fix this? Where do I start?”

• “When I make a mistake, that means all eyes are on me. It’s a chance to do my best in front of a wider audience than I usually have.”

• “Compromise won’t kill me.”

• “Sometimes the key to satisfaction isn’t getting more. It’s grabbing for less.”

“You may not realize it when it happens,” said moviemaker and quintessential American entrepreneur Walt Disney, “but a kick in the pants may be the best thing in the world for you.”

So dare to shift your thinking: right now, when you read conflict, you may read “wrong, negative, abrasive, demanding, raw nerves, combatants…” Change to the breakthrough-bound view: “Maybe, but there’s also a chance the conflict will be strengthening, empowering…a growth spurt in the making.”

Author's Bio: 

Doug Davin and Diana Morris are authors and coaches at, a professional self-improvement community and webstore. Their original resources—Rapid-Read™ Handbooks and Workbooks, free BTS QuickTools™, Breakthrough Coaching, Workshops, and Telesession calls—zero-in on seven Breakthrough Skills you need to reach the highest levels of success and enjoy your work—every day.

“You know you’ve got a great future ahead of you. We know it too, and we’re serious about helping you. Contact us at or call toll-free: 1-877-512-3400.” Also visit their site at

Additional Resources on Communication Skills can be found at:

Website Directory for Communication Skills
Articles on Communication Skills
Products for Communication Skills
Discussion Board
Diana Morris and Doug Davin, The Official Guides to Communication Skills