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31 Oct '12

When conflict is a good thing

Posted by T.J. Addington in clarity, conflict

You may be surprised by the title of the blog but the fact is that there can be significant value in conflict if it handled correctly. I am not talking about conflict that arises from poor EQ or power games. I am talking about the conflict of ideas, methodology and priorities.


Why can this be a good thing? For one, it reveals that there are issues that are not clear among those who are experiencing the conflict. Lack of clarity is never a good thing (see yesterday’s blog) so the very fact that there is a lack of clarity gives you the opportunity to work through the issues and come to clarity on an issue that needs clarification.


In addition, it is in the clash of ideas that the best solutions are found. That is why the best organizations today are relatively flat where information is available to all and where it is OK to press into things that we believe need pressing into. Where robust dialogue cannot be had, you have an organization that will suffer because of it. The ability of staff to be able to be candid with one another and their leaders is a barometer of the health of the organization.


One of the common mistakes in conflict is to personalize it rather than to keep it de-personal and seek to identify the clash of values, ideas, or outcomes that has caused the conflict. Getting to what lies behind the conflicting views can help us understand the root issue(s) and allows the group to think through the implications of those root issues. This takes a non-defensive posture by all and a willingness to allow the robust conversation that needs to be had. Often, when you dig to find the root issues – and this only happens in dialogue – you realize that there is an important issue at stake and it was the conflict that brought it to the surface.


Healthy groups have learned the skill of non-defensive conversation and have the ability to keep the conflict centered around issues rather than people. That is a learned skill and a sign of healthy emotional intelligence. It also allows you to use conflict to your advantage rather than allowing it to control you.