How to Work through Conflict and Become More Productive

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The 2016 Presidential campaign is now in the history books. Whether the results left you pleased or disappointed, there’s a good chance you probably experienced a heated exchange or argument or read some negative comments about the election on your social media feeds along the way. This sort of conflict even led to discord between couples and anxiety among many Americans. A survey by the Pew Research Center shows that nearly one-third of social media users changed their settings to see fewer political posts from a specific user, while 27% blocked or unfriended someone for that reason.1

So where do we go from here? This is a good case study about how to work through conflict and become more productive in our relationships, academic studies, careers and all aspects of our lives.

Get to the Root of the Conflict First

To work through conflict and become a more productive student, AIU psychology professor Dr. Kent Van Cleave Jr. recommends a simple strategy: Think before you act.

Van Cleave, who has been teaching for more than 30 years (including 13 years at AIU), links conflict resolution to the concept of emotional intelligence. “Emotional intelligence suggests that you reflect on any situation which evokes an emotional response before you respond in a manner which might not be effective - and that includes conflict,” he says.

As a starting point, Van Cleave suggests taking this self-assessment to rate your level of emotional intelligence. There are steps you can take to deal with conflict effectively, he notes, starting with recognizing that you are in conflict.

“Often, people get a feeling of uneasiness in conflict situations but fail to realize that conflict is causing the feeling,” he says. “Or they rationalize that it is not conflict because they fear confronting it. Pay attention to that uneasy feeling and trace it to its roots.”

The next step is to seek aclass="h4"win-win solution, or at least one where all parties feel they have been treated fairly. “Assertive communication recognizes the interests of all parties, including your own,” he says. “It is different from passive communication, which is essentially a capitulation. It is different from aggression, which uses ‘I win - you lose’ language. And it is different from passive-aggressive communication, which avoids appearing to be aggressive or assertive, but then covertly attacks the other party. The language of assertive communication is respectful of the positions of all involved.”

Manage Yourself

A good starting point is to remember that you can manage how you behave and react. Eleanor Roosevelt once famously said, “No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.” Likewise, no one can make you lose your cool unless you allow it. Instead of avoiding difficult situations, work through them with these tips:

  • Deal with conflict quickly. If let unaddressed, unresolved situations can escalate and lead to resentment and anger. This doesn’t mean you should have a kneejerk reaction. The old advice to take a deep breath can actually work to calm you down, relieve stress and eliminate negative thoughts.
  • Ensure clear and concise communication. Try to acknowledge other opinions, understand why they differ from yours and don’t jump to conclusions. Everyone comes from a different place and sees people through different filters. It’s important to make sure the conflict isn’t simply a misunderstanding or misinterpretation. Clarifying your stance may often help to defuse a situation.
  • View conflict as an opportunity Learn to accept that you will have differences of opinion or situations that are out of your control. Appreciate varying perspectives and don’t get caught up emotionally in trying to convince someone that you are right. Learning to accept differences is proactive.
  • Solve a problem, not win a fight. How do you respond to conflict and what coping strategies do you have? Is it more important to be right or to resolve the conflict? Above all, don’t continue to fight or call people names. Fighting will cause more negative feelings and resentment.  Instead of reacting to a negative situation, think about how you’re feeling then take a minute to respond appropriately. Take responsibility for your actions and your role in the conflict but don’t continue to beat yourself up over it. If you can’t come to an agreement, then move on and agree to disagree.
  • Work toward harmony. Stop fighting and move on to a solution. That “Let It Go” song from the movie Frozen isn’t just catchy, it’s good advice! Letting go of something upsetting and the negative emotions it creates may take time, but it will lead you to a better place emotionally. Discuss the issue once both parties have calmed down and try to maintain a positive attitude. Remember that both you and the other party want to be heard. A good way to work toward harmony is to ask the other party to suggest a solution to the problem. Most of all, be willing to forgive and don’t hold onto grudges.

Conflict in Different Forms

You may encounter conflict at school, work or at home and the key is to learn how to manage rather than avoid it. Remember that everyone wants to feel valued and understood. Try to listen for what others are feeling as well as what they’re saying and you’ll better understand their point of view. Conflict often triggers emotional responses. If you learn to work through it and manage it, you can become more productive in school, at work and throughout your life.

Can you remember a time when you had to manage conflict in a relationship and had a positive outcome? Find more school and study tips on our Student Success blog.


1. Pew Research Center. “The Political Environment on Social Media,” Retrieved from http://www.pewinternet.org/2016/10/25/the-political-environment-on-social-media/ (Visited 11/28/16)