If you are practicing The Collaborative Way®, you know that it is a challenging way of working and relating together. If you are practicing, you also know that it brings up any challenges you have with conflict.

Many people struggle, at least to some degree, with effectively addressing conflict or confronting difficult situations. Rather than going through the personal discomfort that often accompanies conflict, we often tend to take the “easier” route of avoiding conflict or disagreements by turning a blind eye to the situation, going behind people’s backs to address an issue, or convincing ourselves that it doesn’t really matter and then settling for something less. However, our tendency to avoid conflict has costs.

Avoiding conflict will minimally result in time consuming work-arounds, unresolved interpersonal issues, and internal competition and gossiping, all of which are unproductive and ineffective uses of people’s time. Unaddressed conflict slows everything down — rather than directly dealing with the business issues at hand, we end up dancing around unresolved interpersonal issues instead.

It’s important to realize that conflict is a healthy part of working together to find innovative pathways for accomplishing what you are “up to” together. Experiencing conflict in a discussion among individuals is completely natural, especially when they are passionate about producing results. Without room for conflict and disagreement, there is less room for the emergence of diverse and critical perspectives, ideas, and solutions.


The Collaborative Way® is an effective tool for navigating conflict productively. Below are some of the practices of The Collaborative Way® that will support you in this area:

1) Center yourself in what you are “up to”: What are you ultimately committed to regarding the issue at hand? Perhaps it is the success of a project, a strong working relationship, or having a work environment where people take greater responsibility. Get clear on what you are “up to” — being grounded in your commitment will help guide your speaking and actions.

2) Turn up your listening: During conflict it can be really challenging not to listen through your filters, agendas, and assumptions. However, the more skillful you become at setting these aside, the easier it will be for you to bring authentic curiosity and a more generous listening, both of which are essential to a successful outcome. One of the keys to navigating conflict productively is to really hear the other person’s perspective, even before you feel like they’ve heard your perspective. This requires that you pay attention, ask questions, replicate back to them what you hear, and check to see if what you’re understanding is accurate. Once the other person feels fully heard, it’s more likely they will be able to hear you fully.

3) Speak Straight: During conflict people tend to either sugar-coat their speaking or go to the opposite end and speak in a disrespectful or demeaning manner. Navigating conflict productively requires speaking honestly about the issue at hand in a way that moves the issue forward. This requires that you take responsibility for the impact of your speaking on the other person and correct your speaking when you notice that you are not being straight. One way to ensure your speaking is having the impact you want it to have is to ask the other person to replicate what they heard you say and correct any misunderstanding.

4) Be willing to be uncomfortable: Conflict is uncomfortable for most people. When people aren’t willing to be uncomfortable, they put off addressing conflict until they feel more comfortable, which may or may not happen. However, if you don’t address the issue when it arises you miss an important opening to resolve it and stop the issue from reoccurring. To navigate conflict productively you must give yourself permission to be uncomfortable and then be willing to have the difficult conversation when an issue arises.

As you take on this challenging area, keep centering yourself in your practice of The Collaborative Way®. You can find more support by reading the chapter “Confronting Difficult Issues” in our book Leading The Collaborative Way: Overcoming the Seven Most Common Pitfalls.

What other ways have you used your practice of The Collaborative Way® to support you in navigating conflict? Please comment below.