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Communication Chemistry through Constructive Conflict

A hint of conflict can kindle anxiety. We value unity, consensus and getting along. Most aim for dialogue in which communication remains civil, calm and clear. 

Yet conflict is necessary and inevitable. It’s a positive force for brainstorming, seeking truth—and it’s the only way to dig deeper into issues.

How we cope when conflict arises can make the difference between building ever-stronger bonds or damaging—even destroying—relationships. 

The fear of conflict leads some to try to avoid or squash it. And you may be all too familiar with the ways destructive conflict harms relationships. Nevertheless, strategic communicators learn how to be prepared and fearless in the face of conflict. It’s not that difficult once you adopt a few basic mindsets and tactics for constructive conflict that creates communication chemistry. 

Communication chemistry is the dynamic, confident connection you’ve seen between individuals who have developed an open, trusting discourse. Their dialogue ranges from calm to heated, yet remains constructive. If it ventures into anger, a resolution is quickly and easily reached. 

How do you get there? How do you build communication chemistry?

It requires the positive exchange of competing ideas. 

Each of us views life through a unique lens. Blending the ideas, outlooks, backgrounds and strengths of two or more is bound to spark conflict. Yet if dialogue and behaviors remain rooted in constructive conflict, every party  involved can experience the dynamic, supportive energy of communication chemistry.

An open, energetic flow of communication throws priorities into sharp relief as paths open to the exploration of a wide variety of options. This frees us to examine, explore and create positive change as we discover solutions to problems.

Constructive conflict should never create anxiety or fear. However, you may experience a heightened emotional reaction in yourself—or from others—when differing views are expressed that lead to misunderstanding, misperception or even a standoff. 

As long as emotional responses do not lead to a personal attacks (destructive conflict), the discussion can remain focused on the issues at hand, and each issue can be hammered out in the dialogue. In this way constructive conflict serves as a key step to change, innovation, productivity and growth. 

Constructive conflict can create a space for discussing differences while maintaining the positive communication chemistry that preserves and strengthens relationships.

Begin by recognizing the key traits of BOTH constructive and destructive conflict as described below. This will help you distinguish the differences between them. It will also help you avoid destructive conflict and remain calm when conflict occurs.

Then, think about a destructive conflict scenario you’ve experienced and consider how you might have changed your approach, responses and reactions.

Constructive vs. Destructive Conflict



Characterized by speaking in calm, measured tones that add energy and extra emphasis on words only when necessary. Avoids tones that raise defenses or anxiety.

Features a loud or sarcastic tone of voice, often accompanied by facial expressions and gestures designed to intimidate. This causes defenses and anxiety to rise.

Values preserving relationships MORE than immediately changing others' minds. Focuses on building collaborative partnerships to explore new ideas, examine creative opportunities and test new solutions. 

Places little value on preserving relationships. Frequently devolves into disrespect, insults or bullying to push an agenda.

Seeks the mental and emotional space to listen deeply to another's point of view before jumping to conclusions. Recognizes gray areas where each can learn from the other to find a better solution than either originally envisioned.

 Aims to influence or force others to see things in ONE way only. Binary thinking often comes down to: I am 100 percent right and everyone who doesn't see it my way is 100 percent wrong.

Continues to seek new pathways for deeper discussion. References past issues and projects a vision for the future to establish additional context. This can provide the whys behind complex topics. Builds buy-in and trust.

Suffers from tunnel vision and shortsightedness by insisting on a here and now focus. Ignores the contextual history of issues, rejects long-term consequences and questions why anyone would bring up either. Pushes others to agree.

Expands and maintains openness along with a sense of ease in the dialogue. Engages others, giving them a sense of security, even when venturing into difficult topics. Facilitates a positive communication journey through a challenging subject, thus demonstrating the magnetic leadership quality known as charisma. 

Can create an impasse or standoff with comments like, There's just no getting through to... Or There’s just no communicating with.... 

Forgives quickly when misunderstandings occur. Accepts that others might not clearly see numerous issues impacting the situation. Demonstrates a high degree of patience as the context is outlined and explained. Hears and offers supporting details and is able to identify the bigger vision. Pauses to allow time for reflection.

Reflexively resists, constricts, builds defenses and barriers to new ideas. Blocks flow of communication and creates an impasse. Allows no time or space for deep reflection and enlightenment.

Relies on communication strategies and tactics, keeps a laser-like focus on objectives. 

Displays or expresses heightened emotional reactions, while failing to articulate clear objectives.

When your communication is grounded in confidence and trust, constructive conflict will provide energy for productive discussions.

As you practice constructive conflict you will discover that it is not only a way to find solutions; it also strengthens and preserves the bonds that exist in your relationships with family, friends and colleagues. You’ll create lasting communication chemistry.

Gloria Thomas, The Communication Wizard, Positive Power Lines™


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