You are in line for your morning coffee and someone cuts in front of you. What's your reaction?

destructive conflict vs constructive conflict Photo by Ali Yahya on Unsplash

Constructive example

A : Excuse me, I think you just cut in front of me.

B : Oh sorry, I had not seen you were in line. I'll go after you. My apologies.

Destructive example

A : How dare you cut in front of me? Go back to the end of the line and wait like everybody else.

B : How dare you talk to me like that? I'm not moving. You can go elsewhere if it makes you unhappy.

Sometimes we don't realize we are in a conflict because we think of conflict as being only destructive or negative.

This doesn't always have to be the case.

Destructive Conflict

Destructive conflict can escalate quickly from a difference of opinion to a toxic situation, especially when behaviours include:

  • Making emotional arguments and insisting others should listen to you because of your experience or credentials

  • Treating questions and criticisms as personal attacks

  • Rejecting others' viewpoints before you fully understand their position

  • Mocking or ridiculing others' position

  • Ignoring or dismissing others' ideas

  • Disagreeing for the fun of a fight

  • Refusing to reconsider your position

destructive conflict vs constructive conflict

Constructive Conflict

Constructive conflict comes from core behaviours that contribute to positive outcomes, like:

  • Presenting evidence and reasons in support of ideas

  • Accepting questions and criticisms of your ideas as good for the group

  • Listening closely to others' viewpoints

  • Asking others to present evidence supporting their decision so that you can make a reasoned decision

  • Building on others' ideas and suggestions

  • Disagreeing in order to find the best solution

  • Being willing to change your mind

constructive conflict explained


Which of these statements does NOT reflect a constructive approach to conflict?

Take Action

The next time you find yourself in a discussion involving a difference of opinion, ask yourself these few questions:

Do I feel personally attacked or emotionally affected?

Does the person in front of me not really listen to what I say?

Are my own words and attitude inappropriate?

If your answer to any of these questions is yes, chances are that you are in a destructive conflict.

In this case, step back and refocus on the goal of your discussion. Becoming aware of destructive tendencies is the first step to breaking bad habits.


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