Everyone responds differently to conflict, but must of us can grow in this area. I am a “Conflict-Avoider,” unless I am intentional about changing my default posture. Some of us are the opposite, we are “Conflict-Elevators.” We look for conflict and move too quickly to it, many times elevating the conflict out of per-portion. On this scale you might find yourself identified somewhere else, because there are many options for how we respond. Normally, whatever our default position is, we would benefit from moving closer to the center. One of the keys that helped me stop being an avoider and start moving towards a healthier perspective, was realizing that conflict is actually a good thing. In fact, I believe conflict is ALWAYS a good thing.
Why Conflict is ALWAYS GOOD
1. Reality is always better than pretend
Sometimes they way people handle conflict isn’t good, but the new knowledge you have of how someone feels is good. It is easier for some of us not to face the issues that exist in our family and work relationships or teams, but ignoring conflict limits the health of the environment those relationships exist in. When we ignore conflict in our homes it may look healthier, but its not. The same is true for work and friendships. Reality is better for the person who is frustrated when the verbalize what they are feeling internally and for the person who supposedly blew it. Regardless of if a person is right or wrong when it comes to the issue, I would always rather know there is a damaged relationship, a frustration on my team, or words I said that someone felt hurt by. Reality is always our friend.
2. Conflict can lead to a better solution
Sometimes conflict enables us to see that someone’s perspective is better, or to see an alternative solution. I am not an advocate of someone simply playing devils advocate all the time. But when there are alternative viewpoints, the friction in the discussion normally causes everyone to think more broadly and to search for greater clarity. Be open and don’t just dig in when conflict starts, and you may find your marriage, family or team better for it.
3. Conflict keeps a team from being stagnant
Teams without conflict will likely fail eventually. If everyone always thinks the same, eventually that may be a sign of a fear environment, lack of trust or lack of engagement. No doubt there are moments where people feel aligned and the issue is clear that organization needs to overcome or the family needs to address at home, but many times it won’t be. Conflict makes the team better and makes the marriage better by causing us to listen and to understand a different perspective which will widen the lens through which we see the world. When stop listening for to opposing viewpoints, we will likely stop growing. Doesn’t mean we will end up agreeing, but opposing viewpoints strengthen us and round us out if we let them.
4. Conflict reveals who needs to transition
This one doesn’t apply to the home, but it does to a work team. In an organization where there is a specific culture with specific values, conflict can sometimes reveal who might be a wrong fit for the organization. I don’t say this lightly and I don’t mean in any sense that an employee who has conflict with the organization should be let go. But if an employee repeatedly and continually always has issues with the core values of the organization, the employee needs to change their internal values, the organization needs to change its internal values or the employee needs to find a better fit. For some people, staying in the wrong fit not only results in unresolvable conflict, but it also keeps them from the fulness of their potential. This one needs further nuancing, but there is definitely truth to it.
5. Conflict is emotionally healthy
Emotionally healthy people don’t stuff emotions and they don’t burst out at people around them. They are able to calmly verbalize their differing viewpoint or hurt. They recognize the urge to get elevated in their emotions when they feel hurt in a meeting or concerned about the future of an organization, but they are able to express their perspective or feelings without using it as a club. All of us could further grow in emotional health. The more we are emotionally healthy, the more we will engage in healthy conflict and live with a greater sense of peace in relationships and environments.
6. Conflict always reveals something
Here is my bottom line argument. Conflict is ALWAYS good because it reveals something to us about ourselves, others or our home/organization. Even when it is hard to hear, even when we disagree, even when it is going cause some awkward follow-up conversations, it is good. Because what is happening inside of us and others exists whether it comes to the surface or not. Differing perspectives can help us re-frame our understanding of situations and help us be better relationally with one another as we listen more.
What I am not saying
1. The causes of conflict are always good
Sometimes the outcome of conflict is good, but perhaps it started by someone being defensive or someone seeking to promote their agenda. We can address the manner someone handles conflict if they burst out in a meeting, but the fact that we see what is really going on inside of them is good thing.
2. People who perpetually cause unnecessary conflict should remain on your team
Some people cause conflict because they are emotionally unhealthy. It is a good thing for this to come out on your team so you can seek to encourage them towards emotional health. But that doesn’t mean they should stay in your organization if they refuse to mature emotionally and get help. Sometimes letting them go will be the catalyst that causes them to seek the resources they need to grow if you have tried to walk beside them but they continually refuse the help. Give everything you can to help your team, but in the end you may have to let someone go who is destroying your organizational culture.
Questions for reflection|
1. Do I run to or away from conflict?
2. How could I handle conflict with greater maturity?
3. Do I handle conflict the same way at home and work?
4. Why do I deal with conflict the way that I do?
5. Do I see conflict as good or bad fundamentally?