Why Conflict Can Lead To Better Outcomes

Conflict is bad and should be avoided at all costs

This is a common belief and the statement is open to the challenge of stating the obvious. We see conflict as a negative and associate the word with causing harm to other people. This blog post argues that some conflict may be needed to stimulate fresh ideas that in turn lead to better outcomes. You need to be able to encourage some conflict without being an A-Hole!

Conflict Boxing

The more we try and steer clear of conflict, the greater the risk of remaining within our comfort zone. There are two main concepts at play here.

  1. Innovation comes from creativity and thinking differently. Edward de Bono has written many books on the topic of “Serious Creativity” and he stresses that creativity is not a linear process.
  2. Differing views are needed to bring fresh insights and this can provoke disagreement, even conflict.

Some People Love An Argument

Let’s indulge in some nostalgia with Monty Python’s The Flying Circus and the Argument Clinic.

The essence of this sketch can be summarised by the following interchange between Michael Palin and John Cleese:

“An argument is a collective series of statements to establish a definite proposition.”

“No it  isn’t”

Avoiding Conflict Can Result in Bad Decisions

Margaret Heffernan

Margaret Heffernan

This is the main theme of Margaret Heffernan’s book “Beyond Measure: the Big Impact of Small Changes“.

“People think collaboration is this very soft, jolly interchange, and the truth is that for collaboration to work candour is essential. And if you’re really candid with people it is going to provoke disagreement. But that is how you’re going to take an okay idea and make it better.”

Listen to the interview with Wallace Chapman on Radio New Zealand National in June 2015.


Do You Prefer Honesty To Politeness?

This is a serious question and in this context the choice is not between being honest or dishonest. Some cultures are more comfortable being honest, whereas others rate politeness as being more important. Let me explain this with an excerpt from my blog post:“Yes, no or maybe”. The diplomat and the lady.

“The Dutch are too honest to be polite and the New Zealanders are too polite to be honest.”

There is clearly a need to strike the right balance between being candid and not causing offence.

Some people can be very unpleasant and you do need to deal firmly with employees who behave badly towards their colleagues.

Is Your Co-Worker Actually an A-Hole?

Read the following flowchart from HubSpot, which is a useful resource. I challenge HubSpot on their research. According to Professor Nunberg, the first use of the A-Hole as a pejorative expression was in World War II, when US soldiers began using the term to describe their commanding officers, starting with General George S Patton.

The combined form arsehole is first attested from 1500 in its literal use to refer to the anus. The metaphorical use of the word to refer to the worst place in a region (e.g., “the arsehole of the world”), is first attested in print in 1865; the use to refer to a contemptible person is first attested in 1933. Refer to Wikipedia.

The British spelling is arsehole and this has been softened by the Americans who refer to asshole. This expression is not confined to English and the use of Arschloch is common term of abuse in German. Whatever the spelling, the meaning is the same: someone whose behaviour is unpleasant and obnoxious.

This Graphic is from Blog.HubSpot.com.

is your coworker an asshole

I leave it to you to interpret and adapt the terms in the flowchart to suit your own culture and preferences.

What Lessons Can We Learn about Conflict?

  1.  Many people have an aversion to conflict.
  2. The greater your reluctance to engage in lively debate, the greater the risk of making bad decisions.
  3. While there may be a need to encourage disagreement, you do need to be careful that this does not lead to conflict.
  4. Challenge the idea, rather than attack the person.
  5. Anyone who behaves in a way that even gets close to being an areole needs to be taken aside and spoken to firmly. This behaviour may not be intentional and the person may not be aware of the impact on co-workers.

Do you have too much conflict or not enough?

Contact me if you are having problems managing conflict.

Simon Fawkes CaricatureSimon Fawkes
Accredited Mindshop Facilitator
Business to Markets Ltd

1 comment

  1. Is it conflict or simply challenging the status quo which is always a good thing! Thanks for food for thought.

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