You may think I’m crazy, but I believe that conflict is essential for healthy relationships. Not only for personal relationships, but also for work relationships & co-operation within teams.
To explain why I believe this, let’s first define conflict.
Conflict is when we disagree on something and we do not hide that fact, but talk about our different views in a conversation, discussion or fight.
It’s important to understand here that the defining element for a conflict is not the fighting, because not every conflict has to lead to that.
The defining element is the ‘not hiding’ the disagreement.
Why people avoid conflict
As you know, and maybe even from personal experience, many people avoid conflict. There’s many reasons why they do it. Some people believe conflict will lead to nothing, others fear the effects of conflict. In many cases, the reasons why people try to stay away from conflict have to do with the conflicts they experienced when they were little. You may think you’ve outgrown your childhood experiences, but for of us, nothing is further from the truth: the beliefs, values and fears we have are often directly related to what we saw and where taught as kids.
So if your parents never fought, and then one day got a divorce, what’s you’re belief about conflict going to be? Or if your parents fought all the time, but stayed together for the kids? Or if you never actually experienced any kind of conflict, except for the ones were people used their hands instead their words?
All in all, and whatever the underlying past experiences may have been, most people who avoid conflict have one thing in common: they’ve never seen a healthy conflict happen and they don’t know how to be in a healthy conflict.
The fact is, most people have never been taught the skills to have a healthy conflict. Also important: many people have never learned how to be around intense emotions, and are afraid of might happen if emotions come up in a conflict.
But there’re a few things I want you to know in this context:
- conflicts do not equal fighting,
- conflicts are a necessary part of good relationships,
- emotions go through you really quickly when you allow them,
- engaging in conflict is a communication skill, so it’s something you can learn,
- if you avoid conflict, you basically silence yourself from saying what you feel/belief/know/want etc.
Healthy conflict is absolutely necessary to have meaningful relationships and effective team work. It’s also the number one prerequisite for ‘speaking your truth’ because as defined above, conflict is not fighting, it’s disagreeing with someone and being open about it.
Conflict is the foundation for commitment, accountability & results
Patrick Lencioni wrote a very good book on team work, The 5 dysfunctions of a Team. I highly recommend it (not an affiliate!). He explains how conflict fits into effective, result-oriented team work. I believe the same is – basically- true for personal relationships.
Lencioni explains how conflict, when done in a healthy way, paves the way for commitment. When people have gotten the chance to really speak up & speak out, and then, over the course of discussion, a conclusion or decision is made that is not what they wanted, that conclusion is acceptable for them. If they don’t have the chance to say what they think, people in general will not commit.
You probably have been in situations where that happened. This is when people say ‘yes’, but do ‘no’. Or when people won’t be held accountable for their actions, however hard you try (accountability in Lencioni’s model is the level after commitment, and people will only be accountable when they’ve really committed).
To sum it up:
So to get to a deep connection with your partner or friend, and to make your team run effectively, conflict is the thing you can’t NOT do.
I totally understand that question. In all honesty, I used to avoid conflict like the plague. You know when that changed? When I started to see that if I not said what I thought, things got worse. Like a lot worse. This is a longer story for another time, but bottom line: I developed a way to say what I think, without losing connection to the other person.
And I can help you work out how to that in your own way too. I currently have two affordable options, next to private coaching with me. You can read my book (high value, great results according to the many raving reviews) or you can find my new course on conflict resolution here.
Or of course, you can browse a selection of my communication blogs here.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Rosalie Puiman is the founder of The Sovereign Leader and the author of The Mindful Guide to Conflict Resolution. She works with executives and founding teams to bring forth effective, impactful and purpose-driven success. Find her new course on conflict resolution & effective communication here.