We’ve been trained to view conflict as something negative—something that hurts relationships, dampens the mood, and causes hostility. Naturally, many people have taken the socially-accepted perspective and ran with it, learning to avoid conflict at all costs. That way, the boat won’t be rocked. Everyone is happy. Right?
But we’ve got it all backwards. In fact, the only thing truly negative about conflict is avoiding it. Conflict can actually get worse the longer it is ignored. If addressed sooner, all issues can be resolved before they become more severe, affecting a larger scope of people and projects.
Conflict is not only good—it is necessary. It is productive, innovative, and collaborative. While avoiding conflict creates temporary and superficial peace, working through conflict creates bonds and trust between leaders and team members.
Defining the Connotation
Perhaps some of our negative impressions of conflict are rooted in the belief that there’s something mean-spirited about it—that is has to include yelling, fighting, and anger. The truth is, none of those things need to take place. Conflict can merely be a conversation between two people with differing opinions, and so they come together to talk it out and find the best solution.
Besides the commonly accepted perception of conflict as negative, other reasons contribute to why we avoid conflict. Most notably, humans have a need to fit in. We like to be liked. Conflict, however, sets the stage for two or more people to be at odds with one another. While this interaction can be peaceful and end with an improved relationship, the beginning stage of feeling in opposition to another person fights our human need to belong.
Avoidance in Action
Conflict avoidance manifests in one of three ways, either through avoiding the opposition, the issue, or the friction of the issue. None of the avenues result in change, improvement, or resolution. Instead, you function with a conscious shadow of avoidance and anxiety over the unresolved situation.
According to Fast Company, “When you’re unwilling to work through uncomfortable situations, you’re stretching your resources thin, stifling innovation, and allowing risks to go unnoticed. On your team, the aversion to prickly conversations forces strong performers to compensate for weak ones and mature people to put up with immature ones. At an individual level, you’re probably burning out from the stress.”
Conflict avoidance affects both you and the others involved in a real and damaging way, holding all parties back from unleashing their full potential. Avoiding conflict and resolution creates space to postpone decision-making and penalize high achievers.
When you don’t work through difficult situations, you end up working around them. You walk on eggshells around the issue and involved parties. You experience anxiety, frustration, and guilt over your role in the situation. You’re unable to fully dive into your work relationships and abilities.
Actually engaging with conflict is starting to sound a bit more appealing than avoiding it, huh?
Conflict is important because it allows for organizations to expand their mindset and innovate. When people come together with different viewpoints, each person has the opportunity to actively listen and see a situation from another person’s perspective. Constructive debates may occur, as well as being critical of each person’s idea, but it is through collaboration that the best ideas are born.
Healthy, trusting relationships are built when you collaborate with others and are flexible with your own opinions. Finding a resolution and working toward an outcome together actually leaves everyone feeling productive and their relationships positively affected.
Knowing how to work through conflicts is an acquired skill, but one that can be taught and practiced every day. Executive coaching is one way to be a proactive leader and learn to achieve resolution. Check out how Knowted’s coaching services can be an asset to your organization.