I believe there is such a thing as “positive conflict?” Most of the time we consider conflict as a bad thing. Let’s examine the conditions and results when we consider the positive side of conflict.
When conflict occurs
One root of conflict is when individuals have differing opinions on a specific topic. I dig in my heels and try to prove my viewpoint is right and yours is wrong. You fire back with the same zeal supporting your opinion. There may be several people involved and we end up with group conflict. The conversation devolves into rancor where people actually fight for their opinion.
The topic of conflict is so common that we almost expect to see it every day. Now, what if we modify the thinking process just a bit?
Positive conflict offers more opportunities for creative solutions
Set aside all the rancor and put the issues side by side. Then, we may see a third opinion that turns out to help everybody. We can turn the equation around and focus on the good things with each position. Then we enter a more constructive thought pattern.
Positive conflict starts by asking what’s right with the opposing view
It takes some courage to verbalize what is right about your opponent’s outlook, but it reduces the rancor. It might even open the door for the other person to expound on the benefits of your solution. This kind of “role reversal” can help clear the air. Some combination of both sides might emerge as a brilliant solution. At least you are less likely to have a fistfight.
In times of remote or hybrid work arrangements, the polarization of ideas is more prevalent. People do not always have the benefit of observing the body language of others with differing views. That factor makes it more difficult to envision possible creative solutions or even make people want to cooperate.
The role of a mediator in creating positive conflict
Since conflict is so pervasive in our society, it really helps to have some people who are excellent mediators. These people can see the escalating conflict brewing. It is more difficult for the proponents of each side to see conflict when they are immersed in it. They may not even be communicating face to face. When working remotely, it is easy to ignore the benefits of a more constructive dialog. The mediator steps in and asks if there might be a more helpful way to articulate the disagreement.
It is beneficial to nurture the role of a mediator and reward the people who fill it. You might find a particular individual who is outstanding in this role. It also is helpful for the entire population to witness a breakthrough as a result of keeping open minds. Once people see the benefits it is a lot easier to suggest the technique during a future tangle.
Positive conflict relies on people treating others with dignity. Team building and encouraging a culture of trust help create the right environment. People must care about other people. Sometimes they may need help feeling like they are part of the group. This is especially important when people are working remotely.
Human beings have a way of driving each other crazy. If we can keep calm and recognize there are wonderful solutions, then we can use positive conflict well. Doing so not only supports the best position, it also leaves the people feeling better about each other. A happier workplace also has another big advantage: higher productivity.
Bob Whipple, MBA, CPTD, is a consultant, trainer, speaker, and author in the areas of leadership and trust. He is the author of The Trust Factor: Advanced Leadership for Professionals, Understanding E-Body Language: Building Trust Online, and Leading with Trust is Like Sailing Downwind. Bob has many years as a senior executive with a Fortune 500 Company and with non-profit organizations.