Let’s face it: conflict happens in the workplace. With every client we work with, conflict is an element of a coaching conversation. How can you navigate it in the most productive way possible? It begins and ends with trust. Let me explain.

1. Explore trust. Conflict begins and ends with trust. At some point, trust breaks down, even if only briefly, and you spend time trying to determine who is right, what is best, and how to get there. All of these questions may come into play, and oftentimes, people have the same goals in mind—but trust broke down somewhere along the way. If you do not have trust, conflict emerges quickly.

2. Relationships and commonality. It is hard to trust people we know nothing about, and I am constantly amazed at how little time is taken in the modern workplace to truly build meaningful relationships. Particularly in the COVID world, it is very difficult to build meaningful relationships. Without a relationship, trust falters, and conflict bubbles to the surface even faster. Some might say spending time getting to know one another and finding personal commonality is unprofessional; keep it all business and stay focused. When conflict emerges, understanding someone’s true intentions enables productive conflict to occur.

3. Commit to reframing your thoughts. When we have conflict, it sparks with a small comment or action by someone else. At that instant, a micro-second, we have “instant thoughts” that pop into our mind, and anxiety begins. This is the critical point, a fork in the road, where we can either allow the anxiety to take us down the wrong path, or we can slow down and reframe our thoughts. Ask yourself:

  • Is this thought actually valid/true?
  • Am I overreacting or exaggerating?
  • Is there another way to look at this?

4. Commit to productive responses. Once you slow down, ask these questions, and consider what just happened—you have made a choice. At this point, you are exercising emotional intelligence by being self-aware and self-managing your thoughts. This is a critical choice to change, and it’s worth patting yourself on the back for slowing down, even if only for a micro-second. You have made the unconscious conscious—even if it is briefly. The next step is to commit to trying that every time you feel the anxiety and frustration creeping in. Make the unconscious thoughts into conscious choices—until that behavior becomes a natural subconscious choice of asking yourself, “Is there another way to look at this?”

5. Circle back to trust. When you train your subconscious to always question your internal reactions, you are exercising a higher degree of emotional intelligence as you become socially aware of the perceptions of your behaviors by others. When you become socially aware, you can socially manage your behaviors, and people will begin to see your true intentions are sound and trustworthy. They will see you are in this with them, not against them, and you are both seeking the best solutions for your organization. People tend to trust those whose motives align with their own.

Productive conflict begins and ends with trust, but it takes conscious effort to get there. Recognizing that trust requires a commitment to commonality, controlling your thoughts, and deliberate choices is the shortest path to helping others recognize you are in this with them—not against them. Once that is established, productive conflict becomes a tool for you to embrace along the path to unbelievable outcomes!