I am surprised in business how often I hear people use phrases such as: 'I hate conflict' or 'I’m no good with conflict’ or 'life would be so much better without conflict.'
I want you to think for a minute about a close relationship you hold. For many of us this will be our husband or wife. I want you to imagine what that relationship would look like if there was never any conflict. Do you think the relationship would be getting stronger or weaker?
As much as we might say we hate conflict or we want to avoid it, the reality is that conflict is the very thing we need most if we are to have deeper and richer relationships with others.
In her book, Rising Strong, Brenè Brown says, 'What do these people with strong relationships, parents with deep connections with their children, teachers nurturing creativity and learning, clergy walking with people with faith, and trusted leaders have in common? The answer is clear: they recognise the power of emotion and are not afraid to lean into discomfort.'
Lean into conflict
In my experience, those who lean into conflict the firmest (in a healthy way) are those who rise the strongest. Conflict is a necessary mechanism in order to achieve understanding of each other, and engagement of our team with the vision and purpose of our business. It is usually in conflict situations that we develop deeper understanding of each other, and learn the most about other people’s points of view. It is unrealistic to think we all see the world the same, so we should expect differences of understanding and opinion to arise. How we handle it is the key to whether we create greater engagement with people, or push them further away.
Lack of conflict is a problem
In his book, The Five Dysfunctions Of A Team, Patrick Lencioni describes the top five barriers that prevent teams reaching their potential.
Dysfunction number two in this list is fear of conflict. In his book Patrick states that the fear of conflict creates artificial harmony. He states, 'It’s the lack of conflict that is a problem. Harmony itself is good, if it comes as a result of working through issues constantly and cycling through conflict. But if it only comes as a result of people holding back their opinion and honest concerns, then it is a bad thing.'
'Politics is when people choose their words and actions based on how they want others to react rather than based on what they really think.'
What is your conflict culture?
According to Patrick’s research, artificial harmony results in inferior team performance, and decisions are made based on the path of least resistance rather than what may be the best way forward. Facing conflict not only creates greater engagement, but is also the key to discovering new ways forward.
What is the culture you are creating around conflict? Is it healthy or is there artificial harmony in your team (including not just your employees but your advisors)?