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The Science of Productive Conflict

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The Science of Productive Conflict

Work Life with Adam Grant,

5 min read
4 take-aways
Audio & text

What's inside?

Don’t agree to disagree; agree to disagree respectfully.

Editorial Rating



  • Applicable
  • Engaging
  • Inspiring


Remember your last conflict, either at home or at work. What was it about? Were you unable to agree on how a task ought to be completed? Or did deeper issues of personality and values come into play? Did one or both of you try to pull rank? In this episode of WorkLife, organizational psychologist Adam Grant and his expert guests illustrate how defining the nature of a conflict can be the first step to reaching a resolution. 


The first step to productive conflict is to develop a thorough understanding of what the conflict is really about.

When people agree to disagree, they are missing an opportunity to work together to reach a resolution. Conflicts are inevitable, and they can be uncomfortable, but they are rarely unsolvable.

Author Glennon Doyle has an ongoing conflict with her wife, retired soccer player Abby Wambach. When Wambach orders takeout, she buys as many as five pizzas for their family of five. For Doyle, who grew up in a prudent family, five pizzas for five people feels over-indulgent. But in Wambach’s mind, she’s protecting her children from scarcity when she orders too much food. Wambach sees her actions as nurturing, but Doyle views over-ordering as wasteful. The couple fights about this issue regularly.

The “ladder of inference” conflict model can help you recognize the observations, assumptions and conclusions at the heart of a conflict.

Sometimes the first step to resolving a conflict is to disentangle observations, assumptions and conclusions using a model called the “ladder of inference...

About the Podcast

Organizational psychologist Adam Grant is the author of several books and the host of WorkLife, a podcast that explores the science of making work more enjoyable.

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