If ‘healthy conflict’ sounds a bit like a warm snowstorm, you’re not alone. I thought the same thing the first time I heard the phrase. So, what is it?
Healthy conflict is the middle ground between acting like everything’s fine and attacking someone’s character.
It involves a difference in opinion and a disposition of wanting the best outcome-regardless of being right. Unhealthy conflict may also involve differing opinions but is always characterized by a winner and loser. Unhealthy conflict loses sight of the larger goal and instead zooms in on individual gain or loss.
An example: You’re in a conversation and a disagreement about a specific topic happens. Ten minutes later it ends in an argument about something completely different. Neither you nor the other person knows what the issue is anymore but you both feel unheard and personally attacked.No resolution on the initial topic. Apologies are needed to rebuild trust.
When you care passionately about something, emotion is involved. We’re human. We can’t help it! But we can choose how to direct our emotions when a disagreement happens. And disagreement is commonplace in healthy conflict.
So then how do you keep from ending with apologies? Well, being quick to apologize should always be present. However, a helpful differentiator between the healthy and unhealthy conflict is motive. When the motive behind the conflict starts with or slides into selfishness, then you’re just a heartbeat away from an unhealthy conversation.
Ingredients for unhealthy conflict: pride, quick-witted joking, definitive statements, overuse of "always/never", justifying yourself, and the classic ‘just telling it like it is’ mentality
Ingredients for healthy conflict: humility, thoughtful questions, disagreeing with ideas vs. people, a mindset of “we vs. me, admitting when you’re wrong, and embracing the awkwardness
The following pages will guide you in gaining confidence to implement a vital exercise in your leadership regimen.
For most people healthy conflict is counterintuitive and awkward at first, so why even bother? Simply put, your success depends on it.
On page 17 of Business Made Simple Donald Miller says, “All human progress happens by passing through conflict. You cannot climb a mountain, build a bridge, create a community, or grow a business without engaging in and navigating conflict.” He goes on to say, “If you avoid conflict, you will not achieve success.”
Here are a few practical examples of what’s forfeited when conflict is avoided:
Flip it, and that means there’s a ton to gain for your team, your company, and your leadership personally when you engage in healthy conflict. There is less pressure on you as the leader to hold everyone accountable because the individuals involved are bought in. There is more productivity because “what’s best for the company” is sought after versus winning an argument.
Why does healthy conflict matter? Because it brings us together. It sets us on level ground. It moves us forward.
As the cadence of healthy conflict becomes consistent, you will experience:
Sounds simple, right? It is simple, but it isn’t easy. It isn’t easy, but it’s totally worth it.
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