Keeping conflict productive

Conflict can be hot or cold–what are you dealing with?


Conflict is a part of life. Our goal should never be the total absence of conflict because, more often than not, the absence of conflict is more a sign of disease than of health.

Our goal ought to be the healthy and respectful expression of disagreement.

According to Harvard Business Review we typically deal with hot or cold conflicts.

“The Cold Conflict”

The cold conflict lurks beneath a façade of ice–aloofness, coolness, emotional distance. On the surface things seem peaceful, but in reality there is resistance–of a passive or subversive variety.

  • The employee says what you want them to say and then turns around a does whatever he wishes.
  • The spouse does and says all of the right things, but internally she is furious and has already checked out and is living a parallel life.

This situation requires heating up the conversation. In order to address and move beyond this situation, it has to be explicitly acknowledged and no longer can it remain the unacknowledged elephant in the room.

“The Hot Conflict”

Resistance isn’t always passive. At times it is very active–the blood pressure spikes, the face reddens, and the voice is raised.

This requires cooling down the conversation–specifically, when the parties have moved beyond healthy disagreement to an unproductive sort of bickering that is impeding the mission.

Getting to the Temperate Zone

In order fo2086701.jpgr conflict to be productive, it has to be moved from hot (torrid) or cold (frigid) into the temperate zone.

For those of you who remember basic biology and geology: recall the temperate zone. The earth’s temperate zones are the two areas of earth’s climates that experience four distinct seasons. It’s not hot all the time (that is the torrid zone around the equator), and its not cold all the time (that is the arctic and antarctic zones at the poles).

The temperate zones offer some degree of balance between hot and cold. It’s possible for life to exist in the torrid zone and in the frigid zones, but life isn’t as easy or as pleasurable there as in the temperate zones. Life flourishes in the temperate zones.

When it comes to conflict, the temperate zone offers us a balance between engagement and disengagement, between enmeshment and indifference.

In the temperate zone there is enough passion and energy to make a conversation animated, but not so much passion and energy that it becomes a shouting match.

In the temperate zone there is enough distance to allow one person to hear and consider the others’ views, but not so much distance that the interlocutors are checked out from the conversation.

Progress, answers, and change come in the temperate zone, not in the hot or cold stages (or zones) of conflict, because the temperate zone is the only place where people can understand and be understood. 



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