If you asked me just a few months ago, I would have told you that I didn’t like conflict. That’s because what I knew about conflict had not evolved very much from the grade school playground. It was negative, uncomfortable, unhealthy….but then I found the positive.
Over the past several months, I challenged myself to find out why some people actively seek out conflict. I wanted to know why these people thought such a negative experience could be so useful. What I discovered…..conflict has a bad reputation.
Conflict can be divided into two types: healthy or unhealthy. Healthy conflict can simply mean a difference of opinion. Now, I understand some people seek out conflict because they have figured out how to harness healthy conflict to challenge their way of thinking. I found that when I keep an open mind and focus on the problem that needs to be solved, healthy conflict often helps me see the problem (and solutions) in ways I hadn’t considered. I find that I learn the most when I listen to other people’s viewpoints and consider them in addition to my own. I find these exchanges of ideas energizing. Healthy conflict results in win-win solutions that actually strengthen team dynamics and should be fostered.
Here are a few suggestions for ways to foster healthy conflict:
- Express your opinion in a positive manner. You may have a different opinion than someone else, but others have a right to their opinions. Show respect for others’ opinions and others will likely show respect for yours.
- Ask open ended “why” questions. If you’re concerned about someone else’s approach, ask for their reasoning. Instead of drawing attention to an area they seem to have missed, ask if they’ve considered other areas, or alternative approaches.
- Focus the discussion on the problem, not the person. What are the underlying issues the team is attempting to resolve?
- Clear up any misconceptions or misunderstandings. If you’re the one with the misunderstanding, own it.
When I find myself developing an entrenched position, I remind myself of 3 truths:
- Everyone is good at something.
- No one person is the source of all the good ideas in the world.
- Everyone makes mistakes.
The following Harvard Business Review article by Liane Davey helped me get started. I hope it helps you.
The familiar type of conflict I had known since those playground days…unhealthy. Unhealthy conflict can damage a team’s dynamic and requires immediate attention. There are strategies that deal specifically with unhealthy conflict, and I plan to cover those in a future blog. Be sure to follow along for more blogs about managing conflict and more.