10 Tips to Help Resolve Creative Conflicts

Collaboration is how things are accomplished these days. With collaboration, we can reach incredible creative heights. To get there, though, sometimes we have to slog through conflicts due to incompatible expectations and creative differences.

More often than not, the key to resolving these problems is focusing on communication. Making sure that everyone is on the right page and has an understanding of the goals can go a long way towards fixing what has broken down and improving that which has failed to meet high expectations. Additionally, reaffirming hierarchy of decision-making can be a great help.

From clients to copywriters, designers to directors, the following 10 tips can help with resolving creative differences so you can complete the project to its fullest potential.

bad business team creative conflict in office Business fight cartoon

1. Stay Calm

It’s easy to get attached to an idea and feel upset if that idea is threatened. Getting emotional isn’t going to help the situation. It will be easier to get to a positive resolution if everyone can stay calm and be open to ideas.

2. Restate Goals

Sometimes the message and imagery can get too far off from the original goals. Sometimes they can get misconstrued over multiple revisions and long time periods. Restating the goals and evaluating them against what is being discussed can often help to resolve whether the conversation is even worth the breath.

3. Identify Agreements

When a disagreement arises, it can feel like the entire project is doomed. When the whole team can see how much is right compared to how much is in dispute, it can be easier for people to come to the table with ideas on how to fix the problem.

4. Listen Intently

Not everyone communicates the same and misunderstandings can arise in the most unexpected places. One of the simplest of things you can do to try to head this off is to really pay attention to what is being said. And I mean really listen: If you’re busy thinking about how you’re going to respond, and they’re still talking, you will probably miss the true message.

5. Aim Carefully

Aim your praise at people; aim your criticism at ideas. If you criticize people, they tend to feel attacked, while aiming at the idea feels less personal. If you can demonstrate how the idea doesn’t fit with the project, you’ll be more likely to be heard and to sway minds.

Surrender missile attack Creative Conflict

6. Speak Clearly

Once again, people don’t always communicate in the same ways. When you are making your case or are asking questions, be as clear and concise as possible. Frame your sentences in your head before you speak them for the best results.

7. Sandwich Negativity

Often it can be easier for people to take direct criticism if you can sandwich it between two positives. Say something positive about the person and his or her contribution (or the team as a whole and the work produced thus far), state your concern, then offer a different positive.

Bonus points if the second positive attribute you mention could be made even better when your negative concern is addressed.

8. Ask Questions

Asking the right questions can really clear up a lot of issues. It can be hard to know the right ones to ask, but some of the best questions start with “why” and “how“.

Knowing “why” can make all the difference in understanding and influencing motivation. It can get people to instantly back down and reinforce others to continue to standing up for their position. Knowing “how” can help people feel empowered to move forward with carrying out the task.

9. Accept Shotcallers

Sometimes, it just doesn’t matter what you think or say. If you have a supervisor or are answering directly to a client, you can only push for your point of view so far before you start ruffling feathers and risking your work. Ultimately the person who signs the checks will get the final say.

10. Try It

This can be taken two ways. If the client or your boss is asking you for something you think is inferior, and you’ve made your case, rest your case, try what they want, and do it to the best of your abilities. The other option would be to do the project how they want it, but to create another design that takes into account the position of the “losing side” of the argument.

If they like the design they originally requested, suck it up and understand that sometimes people want what they want. But if they are disappointed, you could try introducing your alternative design.


Do keep in mind, though, these tips are meant to address design, copy, goal and creative issues and do not apply when the disagreement is over ethics. That’s a whole different can of worms.

That said, not all creative conflicts can be resolved with the techniques in this list. Even so, these tips can get you a long way towards helping people come together to solve many common differences and disagreements.

What is your best advice for resolving creative differences when you’re working on a project?

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