Nobody likes conflict, right! Well, other than people who are into ‘drama’, who stir up trouble for the thrill of it, or who use conflict as a means of control. But most sane people don’t like conflict. And why should they? It’s upsetting; it’s risky; it’s challenging.
However, sometimes conflict is essential. And in our desire to avoid it, we can unwittingly make matters worse.
1. We let the bully rule
People become bystanders to bullying behaviour because they don’t want to cause trouble, be called a snitch, or get involved.
If they themselves are being bullied, people often allow it to continue to keep the peace, because it’s ‘more trouble than it’s worth’, or because they don’t know how to resolve it.
In other words, people keep quiet to avoid conflict. But by doing so, the bullying behaviour will not only continue…it will escalate.
2. We wait until a smoulder becomes a flame
Firefighting is a familiar sight in organisations. It usually occurs not because something is unforeseen but because something has been ignored. Only when the smouldering situation has finally erupted into flames is it dealt with…causing a lot more damage and mayhem – a lot more conflict – than if it had been dealt with the moment smoke was detected.
Of course, this doesn’t only happen in organisations. Our aversion to conflict affects our personal lives too. Hoping a problem will magically disappear seems preferable to having one of those difficult conversations!
‘What is important is seldom urgent, and what is urgent is seldom important.’ Dwight D. Eisenhower
3. We don’t learn how to use conflict creatively
We need to be nudged out of our ruts if we’re going to keep growing and be creative. Great leaders know that they have to use ‘provocations’ to shake things up. And yes, this can cause conflict. For example, Miles Davis repeatedly disbanded his jazz groups and formed new ones; Tim Smit, CEO of the Eden Project, takes similar action by regularly moving employees out of a role, so they don’t get stuck in routines. Does this produce conflict? Of course! It disrupts the status quo, and that will always ruffle feathers.
Very few people are good at dealing with conflict…they don’t really harness the creative potential.
‘ ‘Good’ conflict is good for you – don’t shy away from it.’ Peter Senge