You Might Not Like it but There are 5 Good Things About Conflict
Managers spend between 40% and 90% of their time dealing with conflict. With that in mind, it makes sense to get the most out of such a time consuming activity.
Leadership Freak readers indicate that conflict can serve a good purpose. Doc wisely observes, “Do we really need to ‘resolve’ conflict? From conflicts and discomfort comes the clear need to change, make progress, and grow.” (You make conflict worse when you …) He and others made me think about the good side of conflict.
Five good things about conflict
#1. Conflict causes pain.
Many observe that we don’t change until the pain of clinging to the present seems worse than the pain of changing.
When conflict motivates self-reflection and change, it’s a good thing.
#2. Conflict pushes against inertia.
Individuals and organizations usually tend to stagnate.
Conflict is a wake-up call that the status quo isn’t working.
#3. Conflict may end negative relationship-cycles.
Conflict motivates us to enhance our people skills. When I see a pattern of conflict in my own relationships or those around me, it’s time to address counter-productive relationship patterns.
#4. Working to solve conflict encourages creativity and innovation.
Innovation is the potential of conflict.
#5. Conflict challenges teams to refresh team dynamics.
Without conflict teams may drift into mediocrity.
#1. Confidence in ourselves and others helps relieve some of the stress conflict causes. Believe you can find a solution.
#2. Focusing on organizational or personal mission and vision helps explain, direct and give meaning to conflict.
What’s good about conflict?
This post is a revised version of a article I published ten years ago. You can see the original here: You Might Not Like it but There are 5 Good Things About Conflict
For some reason, conflict is seen as negative when in essence like you mention above it gets a decision made and a move in a certain direction. Conflict does not have to be associated with acts that result in someone losing something which is why I like to differentiate between conflict and confrontation. It is not sustainable to pretend it is all good when things are just going from bad to worse, so bring it on and take it on!
Thanks for your comment.
I love how you indicate conflict doesn’t have to result in someone losing something. That helps us stay positive.
I’m thankful you stopped in.
I’m a new reader of your blog and am enjoying the content.
Conflict is a great topic. As your previous reader mentioned it doesn’t have be set in win/lose environment. I think conflict that is based on healthy relationships – trust & accountability can actually facilitate more efficient solutions, and better decision making.
So much of conflict is based on “my idea not being the final execution”. If we change our perspective to “conflicting” over multiple ideas, we may be able to create a synergy that creates the best result… As you said in the last section of your blog – focus on vision/mission (not my idea :-))
Look forward to more great reads,
Thank you for joining the conversation and thank you for your kind words. Welcome aboard. I look forward to hearing more from you in the future.
I think we may believe conflict and healthy relationships is mutually exclusive. I think conflict based on finding the best solution is useful. Conflict based on personalities is more likely to be destructive.
My 2 cents on conflict is two-fold. First, some conflict is never meant to be “solved” but rather managed. Learned that from one of my Favorite leaders, Andy Stanley. Think sales and marketing– both ultimately have the same goal yet very different paths and ideas on how to achieve it. So conflict between them in an organization can be healthy and drive innovation. The leader striving to “solve” this conflict will most likely fail.
Finally, I find conflict absolutely necessary to get to the best answer. It is a rare occasion when all parties in an organization, with various backgrounds and frames of references, come to the same conclusion without at least a little conflict.
Thanks Dan for the great post and discussion.
Thanks for your 2 cents. Very worthwhile. Thanks for adding value.
Perhaps leaders should hang posters around the office… “make the most of conflict.”
In my experience, we tend to work through conflict to a better solution.
Ah my field of practice:) I have so much to say but will limit my comments.
The idea of learning how to effectively engage in conflict is really about accepting that conflict is an inevitable and normal part of working together and being interdependent. Unfortunately not many organizations identify effective conflict management/engagement as a core competency for leaders. For this and other reasons, conflict is not seen as an opportunity to improve relationships, be innovative and productively challenge assumptions in constructive ways that give voice to differences.
Conflict has a bad wrap. If it were called proflict, maybe we would view it differently 🙂
Love your insights. You said so much in a short space.
“Interdependent” is a great word.
Effective conflict engagement!
I can see why they call you the “conflict coach”
Best to you,
Proflict it is Cinnie! Will spread that one around, with props your way!
In many ways, you discover people’s true natures in the face of conflict. The non-prof I work with has some conflicts currently in motion, in part due to a change of officers, and a myriad of new changes on the horizon. Hurt feelings, fear and uncertainty do a lot to feed this, as well as naive points of view. The process of addressing these has been revealing when it comes to people. And in some cases, sudden truth has come to light. It also reveals when things haven’t been communicated well enough and presents an opportunity to increase awareness.
I’m not generally a fan of conflict. I find it rather uncomfortable myself. But it is a learning opportunity. And sometimes, it even allows people to clear the air so they can finally work together.
It’s sad that sometimes it takes conflict or anger for people to finally say what they really feel. On the other hand, thats the value of conflict.
I think an ability to separate emotion from inner reality is important. Too frequently emotion obscures reality.
Best to you,
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Good insight into conflict management. Conflicts need to be resolved and the leaders should have the courage to do so. Solving conflict can lead to better relationship amongst affected parties and refocuses on the common organization goals. This needs to be viewed in the context of the senior management staff entering into conflicts due to the individual leadership grid styles.
However, the reality situation in most cases is the reverse. Leaders deliberately ignore the conflicts and leave the things to get automatically freeze out. Leaders or the top management in this case shows cowardly attitude and results into creating more rivalry amongst the dissatisfied lots. The end result is of course the spoiled work environment and not too optimal results.
In conclusion. it is inevitable to avoid conflicts at the managerial levels and it is the prime responsibility of the leaders to solve these by taking a neutral stand and rely upon the fact based information. The affected parties need to be heard and given full justice to bring amicable solutions.
I think the good quality of a leader should be to recognize those situations where conflicts really have to be resolved, and act on them only.
I very rarely find myself in a situation where I feel the need to step in and solve the conflict on my own, perhaps we don’t have many in first place, but mostly, they are all “good” ones, and there really is no need to make things worse by acting upon them.
What’s ‘good’ about conflict?
I am reminded of Spirit’s song, “It’s Nature’s Way of telling you something’s wrong.” That is what conflict is.
When is being wrong, good or beneficial? When we learn and do better the next time, certainly.
Another beneficial piece of conflict shows engagement/investment or potentially some deeper degree of commitment. That is a serious plus!
Whether that commitment is healthy or not may be another issue–conflicts that attack the person rather than the issue still can show commitment, albeit dysfunctional commitment. And the outcomes are usually not healthy as well.
Perhaps, most of the time, a healthy conflict does reflect dedication to VMV or VMV clarification and viewed in that light, it is definitely a good thing.
We, as leaders and co-workers, tend to often avoid conflict for a multitude of personal ‘reasons’ rather than leaning into professional commitment and advancement of the organization. Vexing to say the least and if we are looking long term, such avoidance is in obvious conflict with what we say are the traits we endorse and espouse.
And I agree with Denise that conflict is needed to get to the best answer, usually not an easy path, but if done well (managed not necessarily resolved), worth the results.
good evening Dan. Just got back into town and found myself reading this fascinating discussion on conflict. Well I will submit that we have been conflicted from the day we traversed that birth canal and plopped out against our will mind you into the hands of the catcher and screamed our way into humanity. From that moment forward we have wrestled with adversity and strangely enough that challenge has pushed us forward albeit ranting and raving at times along the way. Having survived all that we are continuously besieged by those around us wanting answers, solutions, acceptance and acknowledgment. As has been suggested listening and providing understanding will most often suffice to calm
Being born, hmm conflict resolved??? Nooo, let me make in….lol.
The anxieties. I don”t believe we ever truly resolve conflict but rather manage it and again like mentioned earlier can if properly handled derive a lot of benefit from it for all parties. Conflict is not the same thing as aggression. The latter is provoked and the former happens as a byproduct of disruptive innovation and healthy variances that seek a higher ground. We should embrace conflict and diffuse aggression. One leads to enhanced potential while the other leads to hurt, pain, desolation and fear to proceed. Leaders need to mitigate all acts of belligerence and hostility and welcome healthy confrontation that can only lead to growth and divergent camaraderie. Salamm A.D. ( just learned this one from one of the LF community) sorry about the hatchet job still getting used to typing on the IPad. 🙂
“We embrace conflict and diffuse aggression.” There is an excellent credo, thanks Al!!
Another thought provoking post Dan! Conflict and the avoidance of conflict is something I have been reflecting on of late in the context of helping. We have been discussing why it is that people do not stop to offer help to others in apparent need.
One view was put forward that not everybody wants to be helped and that you risk potential conflict if they were to react angrily to an offer of assistance. In my mind that means our growing desire to avoid conflict is potentially making the world an angrier, more lonely place to live.
There are lots of benefits that can result from “engaging with conflict” rather than “engaging in conflict” and a lot of damage that can be done by avoiding conflict. As Doc says it does require us to lean in and walk the talk. More organisations should engage people like Cinnie to give their staff the skills and the confidence (and the self-confidence) to engage with conflict.
Would that I could take credit for the ‘lean in’ perspective…got that from a MD I worked with.
I really appreciate your distinction Paul, between ‘with’ and ‘in’…how simple little words can create a totally different perspective! Thanks.
I have always felt that conflict could be used as a positive motivational tool if done professionally and with the mindset to improve behaviors and situations. Thanks for validating this!
Make sure that both parties are calm and not emotionally charged. They may carelessly hurt each other, otherwise. I also think it is best that our mindset is that we will just facilitate the discussion and not aiming directly to resolve the conflict. Throwing rhetorical questions or questions that will help them realize their inequities (both parties) may be helpful.
Conflict can be used as a ‘reset’ to avoid cyclical frustrations. Depending on the situation, conflict can be used to learn, adjust and progress. I think back to a time I had conflict with a client. I downplayed the issues for a while, but as they progressed, I realized the client had good points. By being forthright and open to listening and understanding, I was able to adjust the operations, clean-up the drivers of the client’s frustration and minimize the conflict.