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Basic Conflict Resolution Skills: How Conflict Impedes Creativity: and How to Get Unblocked

Creativity & Conflict

Why Creativity is Important

In my mediation practice, I have seen business circumstances at their darkest, when dissolution looms and bankruptcy seems certain. Folks faced with these situations, many of whom are older businessmen, are often in extreme pain;   they are depressed to the point of substance abuse, potentially suicidal,  and some cry persistently and are unable to sleep. Their businesses have become their living nightmare.

Despite bleak circumstances, there is hope, and there are clues as to what decisions and skills might help businesspeople avoid such unnecessary pain. Often, the solution lies in developing and using creativity.

Creativity is creating and expressing solutions and ideas and being open to new possibilities. Creativity is important to your business to help you discover a variety of decisions that could help you create profits, save money, and avoid or manage risk. I have observed first-hand what a lack of creativity can do to a business, and the results can be devastating.

Small and large disasters inevitably descend on every business. But only some businesspeople have the tools of creativity (to solve) and resilience (to endure) that will enable them to help themselves out of their predicament. A lack of creativity can also manifest itself as an inability to recognize the potentially wise option of exiting a failing business.

Creativity can accelerate problem solving because it equals resourcefulness, which, in addition to perseverance, is a key raw ingredient for success. Resourcefulness can be the answer to elevating company value: developing your resourcefulness is more valuable than accessing new resources such as money, because most resources eventually dry up.

We live in a finite universe. However, your resourcefulness is boundless if you choose to develop it. Depending on the acquisition of new resources alone can create serious weakness in your business success plan.

Lately, American culture has often delegated creativity to the back burner. But creativity can create and anchor a vision of success for your business by helping you develop a plan and ideas about what it means to “win”. Without creativity, and no vision, your enterprise may drift.

Why Impeded Creativity is Bad for Business

There are several reasons why impeded creativity is bad for business. First, impeded creativity leaves a lot of value on the table. Second, you don’t get to maximize the potential of your company. Third, impeded creativity can cause a business to lose opportunities.

And fourth, I have observed how a company mired in conflict and lacking the creativity, maturity, and skill to resolve that conflict spooks off investors. Investors could see your conflicted business as a risky investment. Thus, if you are experiencing a divorce and/or internal bickering/partnership disagreements, etc., it may scare away a much needed bank loan, venture capitalist, or angel investor.

Through my practice, some seasoned venture capitalists have observed that many small tech start-ups wind up in court because of misperceptions of value (one of the partners thinks it’s the next Google). One may argue that an overactive imagination is what causes this type of trouble.

But in actuality, creative skill can help you to envision the many possible alternate realities of a company’s value and future outlook, not just a single ideal one. How one chooses a course of action and pursues a particular future for his/her company is another matter (which is where the logical brain can be of great assistance).

Why Creativity is Good for Business

Creativity is good for business for several reasons. First, creativity equals resourcefulness, which can be the answer to elevating company value. It can also help you find ways to cut expenses, boost income, reduce risk, and more efficiently solve problems.

How Conflict Impedes Creativity

Conflict diverts mental energy away from problem-solving and building your business—key activities for productive entrepreneurs. Conflict damages business and personal relationships and consequently stems opportunities for collaborative solutions. In fact, emotional hurt is no different to your brain than physical hurt.

Recent studies in neuroscience have revealed that emotional hurt stimulates the very same parts of the brain (the anterior insula and the anterior cingulated cortex) that light up when we experience physical hurt. In one study, researchers measured how rejection activated the same parts of the brain that respond to physical pain when the subject who had experienced a break-up was shown an image of an ex-partner (Kross, et al., 2011).

This discovery is significant for those in business partnerships because it can mean that these feelings of rejection, mistrust, and anger in a conflict can actually physically harm us. It could also partially explain why these conflicts are so physically draining. These emotions are literally physically hurting us. If we are physically harmed, it can deeply impair our abilities to reach our maximum potential and block access to creativity that can unlock the solution to move the parties and the business forward.

How to Resolve Conflict: Exercising Creativity is Key

Exercising creativity is key. Resolving conflict generally requires two major activities: communication and constructive expression. The next time there is a problem, stretch your creativity to help solve it.

How Do I Develop Creativity?

Developing creativity necessitates courage. Cultural pressure on the entrepreneur is considerable. There are entrepreneurial stereotypes and “ideals” that are often inaccurate, misinformed, and unhealthy. Many people moving out of the corporate world into entrepreneurial pursuits wind up trading corporate values for another culture of unhealthy expectations.

Make no mistake: living a more balanced life means you will likely not have as much time to dedicate to your business and you will likely take longer to reach your business goals. However, maintaining this balance means that you can live your life, pursue your dream, and develop your business on your terms. Being an entrepreneur on your terms does not mean all or none—you need to do what feels right for you and your family.

Before you pursue a new project or course of action, ask yourself why the action/issue is so important to you. For instance, pursuing a particular project may mean that you get to earn money that you need to feed your kids. But in a world where there are many ways to earn money, creativity can open doors to reveal other ways to get that particular need met.

1) Assess: What Is Your Relationship With Creativity?

Assess your relationship with creativity: what has been your experience? Was it encouraged or discouraged when you were younger? What kind of associations do you have with it (e.g., irresponsibility, loss of control)?

Were you never exposed to creativity because the bulk of your coursework and extra-curricular activities were focused instead on core topics and sports? Were you overscheduled to the point where you did not get to exercise creativity or have unstructured playtime as a child?

2) Give Yourself Permission To Be Creative

Give yourself permission to be creative. And see problems as opportunities to exercise creativity. Avoid instantly judging your ideas as they arrive. This is especially true for those who come from more logical pursuits such as law and finance. Nothing kills creativity faster than judgment. Try to tell the analytical part of the brain that it will get its important turn when it is time to “edit” but in the early brainstorming phase, it needs to leave the room.

Also, recognize the power of neuro-plasticity. A wealth of new brain studies is revealing the fact that the brain, at virtually any age, can learn anew with consistent practice. 

3) Develop Empathy

Practice creativity by practicing empathy and think about what the other feels by putting yourself in their shoes.  If you are trying to address a conflict, stop and really think about what the conflict might look, sound, and feel like from the other’s perspective. Practice expressing your needs and interests through clear communication.

4) Remove Your Ego

Take your ego out of it. The ego can impede creativity because it is not expansive thinking. The ego promotes narrow thinking because it fixates on just one viewpoint. By releasing ego you can avoid foreclosing other, mutually beneficial and therefore more lasting, solutions.

5) Get Out of Your Environment

There is a reason why the great masters in art spent much time in nature. Nature is perhaps the most powerful way to come up with the new ideas we need to “fill the well”. If you continually withdraw water from your well, without re-filling it, soon there may be nothing left to draw.

Try to get out in nature at least a couple times a week, but preferably as often as possible. Avoid bringing your devices with you and instead opt for just a pencil and memo pad for capturing ideas and breakthroughs when inspiration strikes. Most importantly, be present and observe everything around you.

6) Address Workaholicism 

Workaholicism is particularly insidious for creativity because it does not provide any break time for you to replenish or refill your creative well. Creativity needs space and time to work its magic. The time commitment does not have to be onerous or inconvenient. Start small. For instance, during your lunch hour, take 15 minutes to really just sit, taste your food, and release from your mind any and all thoughts about work whatsoever.

7) Make Time for Free Time

Build free time or idle-time into your schedule, and treat this time with the same respect as an important appointment. Take a look at your schedule and see where you can carve out small chunks of time for down time, perhaps within the margins. Many productivity specialists advocate executing more work ‘within the margins’ and this is useful and productive advice. Balance those margin openings with some truly restorative activities. For instance, do 10 minutes of meditation, take a 10 minute walk outside (5 minutes in one direction, 5 back), read a non-work related book for 10 minutes, or, play with your dogs or kids for 10 minutes.

8) Unplug

Turn off devices. Devices can be incredible energy drainers. Many people are tethered to their phones because of their work, but just because technology is ubiquitous does not mean you have to be a slave to the machine every hour of every day.

Try to avoid being “on” all the time, every day, every month, every year. This is a recipe for burn out, a trip to the hospital, or worse. Such punishment is simply not necessary for anyone, and it can actually be highly detrimental. If unhealthy work hygiene habits lead to sudden burn-out, your customers, investors, employees, and family will not have your support. Without such support, your business and personal life may suffer irreparable harm.

9) Delegate More 

We would never want our airplane pilot or heart surgeon in mid-flight or mid-surgery to suddenly decide “well, I’m off now, see ya!” and walk away from the cockpit or operating theater. But remember that pilots and heart surgeons also delegate! When you have an extremely demanding job, such as being an entrepreneur, sometimes with many people depending on you to feed their families, it is critical to manage your energy to meet the demands of those who are relying on you.

For many entrepreneurs, especially those bootstrapping, delegation is a luxury that they cannot afford. However, there are work-arounds and creativity can help you discover solutions to manage limited resources of time and money. For instance, instead of expecting to pay exorbitant amounts for website art that you plan to create on your own by renting a camera, creative brainstorming may reveal that a barter of your services for use of a friend’s camera (which fulfills their need to satisfy a class project) would be more cost effective and mutually beneficial.

10) Relax and Have Fun

When you can relax and stop obsessing about a particular problem you will often find that the solution effortlessly presents itself. Solutions emerge like good ideas; they can be coy! Ever wonder why some of our best ideas appear when we are brushing our teeth or doing something monotonous? Einstein lamented about this phenomena when he asked “why is it I always get my best ideas while shaving?”

This phenomenon may be explained by the creation of space in our minds at that moment. Nature abhors a vacuum and will promptly fill it. Make some mental space and provide yourself with an opportunity to creatively fill that space with whatever arrives. Avoid initial judgment of your ideas, and instead just let the idea or solution show up. With practice, you may find that it gets easier and the ideas flow more smoothly.

If creating more value for your business is important to you, try to practice these strategies. They could open doors to greater opportunities for you and your business.

Interested in learning how to further develop your conflict resolution skills? Consider signing up for notices (never spam) of our latest articles delivered to your inbox. If you have a friend who might find this information helpful, please feel free to share.


Kross E, Berman MG, Mischel W, Smith EE, Wager T. 2011. Social rejection shares somatosensory representations with physical pain. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America [Internet]. [cited 17 Sep 2013]; 108(15): 6270-6275. Available from: http://www.pnas.org/content/108/15/6270.long



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