Conflict is one of those things that has a bad reputation. We often think of wars, skirmishes and arguments when we hear the word. Dictionary defintions do not help, stating "a serious disagreement or argument", "an extended struggle" or "a prolonged battle". There is no wonder that many of us feel uncomfortable dealing with conflict. 
 
In reality 'conflict' means a difference of opinion or differing agendas. Quite often you will be working with a colleague or client and opinions will differ. This is normal and natural and we have to get comfortable with it. How we choose to deal with conflict will have a huge bearing on how successful the outcome is.  
 
Last night I watched the European Football Championships semi-final between England and Denmark. I am not really a football fan, but felt compelled to get involved. England getting to the semi-finals is a huge, and unexpected, achievement and even I couldn't help get a little excited by the whole thing. 
 
Gareth Southgate, England Manager, had to make some tough decisions and substitutions and the pundits commented on his ability "to be tough" after the game. It made me wonder how he felt about conflict. It seems that he's ok with it. In a recent article he said about the team, 
 
"They must not be afraid of upsetting each other. They have to be brave enough to have conversations that need to be had. It’s one of the things that makes a winning team: when you’re comfortable enough with each other so that, when you have those conversations, it is not held against you. You move on quickly from it. It is recognised as trying to get the best out of each other.” 
 
This hits the nail on the head. We need some conflict if we are going to be a high performing team. By challenging ideas positively, whilst listening to each other, we can potentially achieve better outcomes. If we fail to disagree and comply artificially this will result in poor results for all concerned. 
 
I used to be in a team where conflict was a part of our creative process. When developing a new programme, my colleagues and I would have very animated debates about what worked and didn't. We were very direct with each other but had totally positive intent. We wanted to create the best result and so felt fine in challenging each other positively. I used to refer to this as 'the wind tunnel' because that's how it felt to start with. It took me a while to get used to it and then I settled in and got involved. 
 
Patrick Lencioni's Conflict Continuum 
 
What this team managed to do was operate at 'the ideal conflict point'. We were open in sharing our opinions, listening to others, challenging points of view and being open to change our stance. Our intent was positive and our mission was to drive the best results. 
 
Patrick Lencioni talks about there being a conflict continuum. Quite often we don't get it quite right and it can result in artificial harmony or mean spirited or personal attacks. This is not helpful for anyone and will potentially destroy or erode the relationships concerned. 
 
Do you ever pretend everything is ok when you disagree? 
Do you stay quiet when there is something important to be said? 
Do you openly agree with your boss or colleagues when inside you disagree? 
Have you ever responded emotionally because you finally snap? 
Have you ever been party to unprofessional conversations that share your true feelings but fail to share these with the person who matters? 
 
If you've answered 'yes' to any of these questions think about what you can do to have a healthier conversation with your colleague or client.  
How can you explain your point of view factually and clearly, whilst being open to learning what they think? When we do this, relationships and outcomes improve. Ultimately, conflict enables true collaboration.  
 
 
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