Being human we experience a powerful compulsion to retreat from conflict that is not of our own making. Put simply, if it’s not my problem, why should I have to deal with it? Answered simply, there can be many lasting benefits to approaching conflict as an opportunity – rather than as a barrier to peace.
Conflict in both our personal our business lives is not only unavoidable, it is inevitable. Just as it is inevitable that there will be an earthquake somewhere on planet earth in the coming week, either great or mild, so you can expect one form of conflict to occur in your life. It’s unavoidable. What is however avoidable is an assumption that conflict should always have negative consequences – that’s simply not true. Here’s why.
- If partners did not show disapproval of behaviour they dislike, how would their other half know what their partners expectations are?
- If students did not protest, political establishments would remain unchanged throughout the decades, even centuries.
- If customers never complained, how would service providers be challenged to correct their mistakes or improve their products?
Conflict is a product of dissonance or disagreement. If not addressed and some resolution achieved, the conflict is likely to be perpetuated. However progress requires dissonance as it’s catalyst. It therefore stands to reason that conflict in instances where progress is the result can be seen as healthy rather than undesirable.
It is our response to conflict that creates an outcome – either good or bad – not the conflict itself.
The skill that needs to be developed by individuals and by extension teams, is the ability to absorb dissent in a rational way and ask the question “What does this mean?”. That in itself is tough, as humans are primed towards a “flight” instinct when criticised, so the tendency is to run or defend. But by interpreting a contrary view as an opportunity to gain insight or simply a chance to learn something, potential conflict can be converted into a positive outcome.
Dissatisfaction, and by extension conflict is the catalyst that makes sporting codes safer and fairer for competitors, and more exciting for spectators. The question “how can we do it better in future” is what leads to the improvements. This kind or response makes workplace environments more conducive to productivity, transport safer and governments more accountable.
When applied to individuals it can boost careers, make teams more effective, companies more profitable and governments less corrupt because nothing changes without disruption first.
Conflict can be likened to broken glass. It didn’t just fall apart on its own, something caused it to break. So when conflict arises ask what caused the glass to break and look for ways to address the cause. This may prevent more glasses breaking in future.
Conflict can best be viewed as a flag indicating action is required. There are many instances where a calm, measured response can result in a very desirable outcome – hopefully for all parties affected!
Congruence Training offers a 2-day Conflict Resolution course