It may not sound attractive, but conflict, channeled properly, can be a good thing.
Sometimes I work with teams that clearly have issues they need to address. There may be one loud “sandpaper person” or small clique that seems to have earned the frustration of others, but the dysfunction is obvious.
More often, though, I work with groups that seem to get along well, but are only avoiding conflict because they continue to tiptoe around each other.
These teams consist of people who, for whatever reason, don’t even want me to use the word “conflict” in our discussions. Just like the athlete who always wants to replace the term “weakness” with some other less offensive term, people sometimes try to convince me to use alternate terms such as “difference of opinion” instead.
The truth is usually that people become unwilling to discuss or engage in conflict because they think an uncomfortable peace is more desirable – but silence can be dangerous.
Conflict can be uncomfortable.
It involves combating perspectives or opinions. But without conflict, teams begin to atrophy…
When you refuse to acknowledge issues and sweep them under the rug, eventually you and your teammates will start tripping over the rug!
Positive conflict is absolutely a necessary part of all healthy teams.
When there isn’t enough positive conflict, one of two situations is present.
SITUATION ONE: A true lack of conflict where everyone is in agreement.
Some teams really aren’t experiencing any conflict at all. That can be a problem.
If there is no conflict, there are likely no new ideas being shared or no questioning of the status quo – which can definitely be dangerous in any field. Perhaps the lack of conflict is the results of a lack of diversity – whether cultures, gender, or backgrounds. But that lack of differences can leave your team blind to threats or opportunities that “conflicting” perspectives may be able to present.
If your team is not experiencing any conflict, give yourself permission to ask questions or present a different point of view that WILL shake things up. You need to ask tough questions at your next team meeting. Find a way to introduce a healthy dose of conflicting ideas into the room – and see how your team can grow.
SITUATION TWO: Hidden issues with unproductive interactions.
In most teams, there really is conflict… but often it is hidden.
Perhaps it involves people in meetings who nod in agreement and then leave the room to gossip or talk about problems in the break room. Sometimes even management is part of the problem, engaging in passive-aggressive behavior and refusing to acknowledge important issues or perspectives that are relevant.
But if your team is to grow and achieve any significant success, you must be willing to use the word “conflict” as a positive and productive form of communication. Unhealthy teams are often either passive-aggressive or combative, but avoiding conflict is not living up to your responsibility as a valuable contributing member of the team.
Great teammates can have a “positive conflict” with someone else on the team and still not invalidate their opinion.
How do you open the door to positive conflict?