• Catherine

New term, new conflict? Why you shouldn't fear conflict at work

Updated: Sep 18, 2018


September always has the feel of a "new term" and gives me a good excuse for a new reading list. This year, I gathered together some new titles together with a few classics.


One that I often come back to is Difficult Conversations: How to Discuss what Matters Most. It's a great title - how it uses "conversation" and "discuss" - both terms with positive connotations. An area I've thought about is how to describe the coaching I do with professionals - I've opted for "conflict coach", but am always conscious of how when most people talk about "conflict", particularly at work, they form a negative and destructive image.


Conflict is, for many, something "bad" and to be avoided.


This is not only unrealistic, it's also unhelpful. Unhelpful for both the individual looking for a fulfilment and success, but also unhelpful on an organisational level for firms pursuing competitive advantage through diversity of thought and creativity.


Conflict can be overwhelming when we don't have the right mindset or strategies to address it and move forward constructively. One area that some people find challenging is that they see conflict or disagreement as a personal attack: a negative force which threatens both their identity (as an individual and within their team at work), and their position in their workplace power structure.


I wrote last week about how legal disputes promulgate the more negative parts of conflict - blame, personal attack and no clear "plan" for moving forward. The design of some forms of social media also promotes this. If you've ever tried to have a constructive disagreement with someone on Twitter you'll know what I mean. Anonymous posters who don't have to stick to the issues and readily resort to personal attacks don't support a healthy or discursive system of debate.


For individuals, a skillset that includes an ability to embrace conflict, possibly changing perspective without losing part of their identity or influence, can be invaluable for career fulfilment and progression.


Leaders and managers can also help their teams move towards a more constructive and positive view of conflict - if the meaning of 'conflict' shifts from negativity to the sharing of different perspectives and learning, this can lead to more creativity, innovation and competitive advantage.


Let me know what's on your "new term" reading list. Think about adding Difficult Conversations if you have a gap!

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