We all know that every good book revolves around conflict—it’s only when your characters are thrown up against an obstacle, challenge, or threat that they truly shine.

However, outside the pages of fiction, most of us tend to avoid conflict as much as possible. After all, life is so much easier without that sort of struggle. Better to avoid “rocking the boat” or pissing off the wrong people, right?

Well, according to one article on Psychology Today, your perspective determines whether conflict is a good or bad thing. With the right outlook, conflict can make your situation A LOT better!

A study conducted at MIT involved students divided into two groups: the first group were graded against each other (on the curve), while the other group was given an average grade for the entire group.

When the inevitable inter-personal conflicts came, the two groups responded differently:

  • The first group saw the conflicts as “win-lose” situations. This led them to become defensive or attack their “competitors”.
  • The second group treated their conflicts like shared problems that needed to be resolved together in cooperation with each other in order to make progress on their ultimate goal: getting good grades as a group.

The article didn’t say which group got better grades, but that’s not the takeaway from this piece. Instead, the really important thing is to realize that our attitudes toward conflict will determine the outcome.

If we see it as an “either I win or he/she does”, the ultimate outcome will be a hostile environment filled with people going on the offensive or getting defensive. On the other hand, if we treat conflicts as a problem shared by two people—neither of whom stands to lose or gain more than the other—it’s easier to find common ground and take steps to solve the problem.

This image sums it up better than anything I could say: