Conflict: Turn destructive tension into creative tension

January 24, 2016 Gustav Gous

Conflict: Turn destructive tension into creative tension


Let’s  be honest. We all bear the scars of destructive conflict in our lives, families and even countries. If we all knew how to handle conflict better, then our lives would have been better. But it is never too late to learn.


Conflict is usually about (i) Territory, resources, positions and property, or (ii) values and what we perceive as the truth.  This is the main cause for wars: Boardroom wars, the war between marriage partners, family feuds, ethnic tension,  and blatant aggressive expansionism.  The problem with war is that it doesn’t determine who is right, it only determines who is left. You can be the casualty in the conflict.


The destructive option of war is not the only option to handle conflict. Many people try to avoid conflict. But both miss out on the other creative options to handle conflict.  


In 1974 already Kenneth Thomas and Ralph Kilmann identified 5 different styles to approach conflict in their Thomas–Kilmann Conflict Mode instrument – the most well-known psychometric instrument in the field: 


  1. Competing:  I win – you lose  
  2. Accommodating:I lose - you win
  3. Avoiding: I’m out of here. Instead of presence of mind in the situation, they prefer absence of body!
  4. Compromising: The 50/50 solution style. We each share 50% in the profit or loss.
  5. Collaborating: The 100%/100% solution. Lets work together to create a win/win situation.




Each of the five conflict-handling styles has it’s place:  If they threaten the life of my child, I will go against them in full force and compete, if a big bus heads in my direction I will try to avoid it, and if a person ask my money at gunpoint, I will let that person win to take it. But in normal circumstances the best option is obviously collaborating, and the second best, compromising.


Another way to see the options available to handle conflict, is by comparing Power and Involvement:


  1. Domination
  2. Capitulation
  3. Negotiation
  4. Collaboration
  5. Procrastination




The goal is not a conflict free world.  We need to go from destructive conflict, to creative conflict. Good ideas and true innovation need human interaction, conflict, argument and debate. 


Ronald Reagan said: Peace is not absence of conflict, it is the ability to handle conflict by peaceful means. Martin Luther King Jr  said: “Mankind must evolve for all human conflict a method which rejects revenge, aggression, and retaliation. The foundation of such a method is love.”  Creative conflict handling is to find a way in love. 


The way to do it, is the same way we try to teach kindergarten children, if they quarrel about a toy: Teach them to …


(i)             SHARE 

(ii)            TAKE TURNS

(iii)           SWAP, etc 

and do it in a fair manner.


In the adult world we must, in a constructive process:

(i)             Identify the problem

(ii)            Listen to arguments and responses

(iii)           Develop and evaluate options

(iv)          Come to a resolution and agreement

(v)           Implement a fair deal and cement your learning


Where parties can’t achieve this by themselves, the option of arbitration and mediation is available. In sport you have controlled conflict with the referee as the person who must make sure that constructive conflict, does not deteriorate into destructive conflict.


Let me close with a practical example on how to deal with everyday conflict:


Your boss asks you to come and work on a Saturday – your free day. How do you react to that?


Don’t go directly against him/her. Or don’t give in gruntingly. Avoid the confrontational approach and try the following:


-       # Show understanding: “I know we have been exceptionally busy and that there is     backlog. I can see why you need me.”

-       # Stand up and speak out for yourself:  “ But, I have to tell you …”

-       # Give the reason for refusal:  “.. my daughter is having her birthday party on Saturday and it is very important for me to be there.”

-       # Say no:  “ So, I am sorry, but it would not be possible for me to be there on Saturday.

-       # Offer a compromise:  “If it can be of any help, I can work a bit overtime on Friday.”


In our personal relationships we also need conflict: “As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another”.  Proverbs 27:11 (NIV).  


Communication is the key. Avoid aggressiveness and submissiveness, and go for all the techniques of assertiveness – where you say ‘no’, where you have to and say ‘yes’ when you want to. Conflict resulting from differences such as normal gender differences, and personality differences can be dealt with if both parties try to bring the best of their uniqueness to the table , and keep their weak spots out of the equation. The one must not become like the other - the differences must be in creative tension with each other, 


In a  bad marriage the wedding day is the becoming one of two people, and the rest of the marriage is to determine which one. And so the sparks fly and they destroy each other. In a good marriage, both parties help each other through creative tension to become more themselves - their best selves. Through creative tension they create light for all those around them. Long live creative tension and creative problem solving. 


For a full programme in this regard for yourself, your relationship or your business: Contact dr Gustav Gous at:  

If you want more information on how to make counselling/coaching appointments or book him for motivational talks, contact 

If you want  interventions for your team: Contact +27 12 3455931   or email to discuss possibilities. 

Disclaimer:    Important notice to you as the reader:  Although the life coach (dr Gustav Gous) provide certain recommendations, the sole and final responsibility for decision-making remains your own and that the life coach or anybody associated to him and his company Short Walk Seminars Pty Ltd cannot be held responsible for any of your choices and reactions. You, the reader, must take full responsibility for your life, reactions and choices.  



Dr Gustav Gous  is an International Motivational Speaker and Executive Life Coach with experience on 5 continents. He 

was the in-house counselor for the petro-chemical company Sasol for 9 years. He is known for his Transformational leadership programmes on Robben Island, titled the “Short Walk to Freedom”. 

He is a Certified Speaking Professional (CSP) and past President of the Professional Speakers Association of Southern Africa and a member of the APSS (Asia Professional Speakers Singapore).  Currently he is heading up the Diversity Intelligence Institute, specializing in rolling out Diversity Intelligence interventions for 

international companies. His leadership caps does for leadership what De Bono's thinking hats did for creativity and problem solving. His Coaching programme on national Radio in South Africa RSG FM 100-104 "Fiks vir die lewe" touches the lives of many South Africans. , ,

Follow him on Twitter: @GustavGous  or on Facebook and LinkedIn .