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What Is Healthy Conflict??

Alan Andersen

Just say the word “conflict” and you can create conflict! Most people prefer to avoid conflict and shy away from it at any cost because it can be messy! However, relationships, both at work and at home, require conflict. And without healthy conflict, you will get neither the results nor the satisfaction you are looking for, professionally and personally.

First, Why Have Conflict?

Conflict, by definition, is created by opposing needs, values, or viewpoints. Everyone is human with shortcomings and blindspots. Thus there will always be beliefs, perceptions, opinions, and ideas that are in opposition.

Yet, any unit of people — a work team or a family — must learn how to resolve those conflicts. For a team to experience good healthy conflict, the foundation of trust must be laid. Trust is created first by understanding all the communication styles of the individual members. Then the team must implement systems and rhythms of communication within the organization.

All of that requires being able to tackle healthy conflict. If you want to be part of a high performing team, you must expect conflict to be a part of it.

I come from a family where certain members refuse to engage in conflict and have requested that I do not as well. Being outnumbered, I must pretend to be someone I am not to keep the “peace” — which is not really peace at all.

Relationships without trust, and thus conflict, are basically superficial, fear-driven and unsatisfying. Eventually, people who will not address conflict in a healthy way will find themselves inevitably engaged in unhealthy conflict: Back-biting, judging, gossiping, and controlling behavior.

Remember, conflict doesn’t go away. It comes out sideways in forms of rage, sickness, depression, and/or despondency. It destroys intimacy and ultimately all joy in life.

What Is Conflict that’s Healthy?

Patrick Lencioni shares in his book, The 5 Dysfunctions of a Team, how teams that engage in healthy conflict know that the only purpose is to produce the best possible solution in the shortest period of time. They discuss and resolve issues more quickly and completely than others, and they emerge from heated debates with no residual feelings or collateral damage, but with an eagerness and readiness to take on the next important issue. (pp. 202 & 203.).

This also goes for your personal relationships as well. You can’t grow if you do not have conflict.

In my work, I use the concept of healthy conflict in two distinct ways which I will share below. Whenever I lead with the words, “I need to have healthy conflict with you,” what I am saying is, “Our relationship is important to me and I need to say some hard things that you may not agree with and that I am uncomfortable saying to you. I am taking a risk, but the end result and our working relationship is more valuable to me than the way I feel.”

Healthy Conflict in an Organization

Say you’re on a team. You were hired for your specific gifts and talents. Your bosses and teammates need to hear your thoughts and understand your viewpoint. While not everyone will have a vote, everyone should have a voice. If you don’t speak up about something, perhaps no one else will either.

On a team, healthy conflict means initiating a controversial topic or bringing attention to an issue or situation that could be seen as controversial or disagreement. It is the act of passionately with conviction bringing your unique perspective or your “story” to the table in the spirit of teamwork, organizational health, and overall alignment.

It takes a lot of courage to engage in healthy conflict. You run the risk of being wrong, or of making someone else be acknowledged as wrong. That is where trust comes in — to ensure everyone is safe in telling their “story” and bringing their unique perspective to the team. There is no wrong, when the goal is to make the team right.

“If everyone is thinking alike, then somebody’s not thinking.”- General George S. Patton

Healthy Conflict in Personal Relationships

Healthy conflict in personal relationships requires that you address issues that stand in the way between you and the other person.

It’s especially important to use healthy conflict when someone has done something that hurt you and you can’t get past it. Perhaps their action started out small and you logically can see why they did what they did, yet the pain is there and an obstacle.

For best results, I suggest the “24-hour rule.” The reasons are, first, to let you hot heads cool down and make sure you have thought through the issue. Second, to make sure the quiet folks do not let it fester for weeks, thinking they will get over it in time. In reality, time and trust cover over a bunch of idiosyncrasies and quarks in other people, but if you can’t get over a specific issue quickly then address it.

The Value of Healthy Conflict

When you do humbly and thoughtfully initiate healthy conflict with someone who has offended you, what you are saying is, “I care more about the relationship than I do about my own personal comfort.”  Yes, it demands that you take a risk for the sake of the betterment of the relationship and often times for the sake of the other. We all have blind spots and if we do not have people speaking truth into our lives, how will we ever become better people who are happy, engaged and satisfied?

People are messy. You are messy. A large portion of the population does not think like you do. Trust requires vulnerability and the more open we make ourselves the more inevitable conflict we will have. The art is knowing how to stay present and resolve the conflict, because real people are not perfect. In fact, the way we grow in our emotional intelligence and self-awareness is to to have conflict with trusting people who are committed to our journey to become better…not perfect but better than when we met them.

Do you have a trusted team who will point out your blind spot? If so, thank them today.

Your Coach,

 

This article previously appeared at True Life Coaching, a subsidiary of Shandel Group. If you enjoyed this post, read Shandel's book, Clarity: Focusing on What Matters.

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