Productive Conflict: Give Others Time and Space

Let’s revisit the definition of conflict.

Conflict is a difference of opinions involving strong emotions.

The strong emotions part is what makes conflict so draining and uncomfortable. When people become too drained, they need time and space to recharge and reflect.

One positive approach to conflict that may not seem very intuitive to some is the ability to recognize when someone needs time and space. People show this need differently, so being able to recognize that the conflict has shifted from productive to destructive is a good sign that time and space is needed. Knowing when you need time and space may be easier to recognize than when the others need the same.

Regardless, a simple, “Hey, why don’t we take a break for now and gather our thoughts,” is a great way to make this transition. Then, take that needed time.

Note that the threshold for needing time and space differs for everyone.

Some may need it much sooner than others. If you’re the type of person who values action, you may need it much later, like after the conflict has been resolved. But remember that not everyone can keep going at the same rate. When asked, give that person the time and space they need so they can come back and be productive.

Beware: Asking for time and space is not to be used as a substitution for withdrawing from conflict. Withdrawing from conflict is an unproductive behavior. Asking for time and space assumes that you will take that time and space to consider everyone’s thoughts and positions before revisiting the conflict.

Giving others time and space may be more natural for those with the C style and S style, and may be less natural for those with the i style and the D style.

This is the 9th post in an 18-part series discussing positive conflict behaviors. Effective leaders encourage productive conflict and discourage unproductive conflict. Follow along as we explore the positive impact of these behaviors.

Part 1: Finding the Root of the Problem
Part 2: Apologize
Part 3: Listen to Differing Perspectives
Part 4: Bring in a Neutral Perspective
Part 5: Separate Emotion from Fact
Part 6: Own Your Contributions
Part 7: Offer Reassurance
Part 8: Find a Compromise

2 Responses

  1. Jon
    | Reply

    Alan, this post was incredibly intuitive and I found it incredibly helpful. Thanks!

    • Alan
      | Reply

      Thanks for saying so, Jon – I’m so glad!

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