What do you think about conflict? Most people instinctively try to avoid conflict, and tend to think of the term conflict in a negative way. When you discuss conflict in the business world, it is often spoken of as a diminishing force of productivity. The fear of conflict; the fear of repercussion if you speak up can all play a role in staying silent. However, as Margaret Heffernan showed us in her TEDtalk, good disagreement is central to progress.
Conflict is a reality of working life. Given the multitude types of personality that exist in any workplace, and the range of internal and external pressures that exist, it is not surprise that conflict exists. A survey of European and American executives, found that the vast majority of employees (85%) have to deal with some sort of conflict in their working lives.
In her TED Talk, Margaret Heffernan, suggests that if we stop being afraid of conflict and learn how to manage it, we would discover our great capacity of innovation and change.
Heffernan provided excellent examples of this concept, one of which is about a doctor who was trying to prove a theory. Her theory wasn't developing as she hoped, so she hired an assistant who “actively sought disconfirmation,” or different ways of looking at her models and at her statistics. He saw his job as creating conflict around her theories. By not being able to prove that she was wrong, the assistant could give the doctor the confidence she needed to know that her theory was right.
Heffernan saw this as a fantastic model of collaboration — working with partners who think differently. Then she added this challenge: “I wonder how many of us have, or dare to have, such collaborators?”
How would you feel working with someone who was constantly trying to disprove your work? Would you feel frustrated and angry? Would you see it as an opportunity to strive for better?
Heffernan tells us that we have to find people who are very different from ourselves — different disciplines, different ways of thinking and different experiences. Then we have to find ways to engage with them. Most of the time we like to surround ourselves with people “like us”, thereby minimizing difference in an attempt to avoid conflict. However, it takes confidence and assurance to be able to stand your ground and be able to think constructively about the feedback given.
Conflict at work can also contribute to development or exacerbation of mental health challenges. This is important to consider in your own workplace environment. What resources do you have available if conflict is becoming overwhelming or impacting other areas of your life or health?
“For good ideas and true innovation, you need human interaction, conflict, argument, debate”.
What do you think about this take on creative and constructive view conflict?
Don’t fear conflict—embrace it!