No, you didn’t misread the headline. Yes, it is possible. Contrary to how we generally view conflict, it actually can be a positive and productive thing in an organization. I would go so far as to state that any team or organization that doesn’t promote healthy, creative, content-oriented conflict will not grow or innovate.
Earlier this week, as part of my work at the SynerVision Leadership Foundation, I was able to co-host a hangout with Bill Stierle. Bill is a specialist in communications and relationships, oh and he also serves to mediate and facilitate high-conflict situations. During our Hangout, both Bill and Hugh Ballou challenged the idea that ignoring conflict in our organizations is acceptable. Bill points out that conflict typically flows from one of three levels: 1) Thinking style, 2) Emotional style, or 3) Belief style.
The reality is when we break conflict down into those three levels we begin to provide framework for thinking about what healthy conflict can look like in our teams. If groups work toward developing a safe-place for conflict (removing blaming, shaming, shooting down ideas, triangulation, and avoidance), true growth can occur.
As innovation researchers are quick to point out, new ideas stem from bringing together things that aren’t normally thought of together…this type of thinking will bring on conflict (potentially at any of the three levels), but if we operate from an empathy framework toward the person bringing forward the idea then we have provided space for growth.
But that isn’t always easy. Many times we get really passionate about things that we hold to (thoughts, emotions, beliefs) and we have trouble seeing how others might think, feel, or believe something that we don’t. Bill suggests we can only build an empathetic link as we connect a “feeling” word to a “need” word (at the 23:53 mark of the video, Bill digs into this area…watch it!).
How does conflict impact your team (positively or negatively)? What have you recognized as you “normal” response to conflict? How would creating a safe space for conflict look on your team?