Conflict is Inevitable

I always knew that conflict was inevitable but no one ever told me how painful it could be. 

Our work team is based in locations across the province. While we connect regularly using different technologies, face to face meetings aren’t very common due to the costs in terms of time and money needed to get us all at the same location at the same time. Despite the challenges, we’ve somehow managed to become a community that values and enjoys our face time.

This week we participated in a meeting that finally put us all in the same room to share our respective learnings about the work we’re doing to impact quality of life.

The first part of meeting was loud, spirited and marked by howls of laughter that were prompted in part by introductions that had us sharing something that others in the group might be surprised to know about us. Suffice it to say the exercise involved the sharing of surprising stories as well as a show and tell of tattoos in unusual places. Who knew?

Anyway, after that we quickly hunkered down into some stunningly productive reflections. We listened intently to one another, asked questions to clarify, went deep into the learnings, and identified new answers as well as more tough questions we’ll need to address.

By the end of the exercise, we were all feeling warm and fuzzy about our team and the productivity of the day.

At that point we were faced with the decision of either wrapping up the meeting, or continuing to address a number of other, tougher issues that had created dissention and conflict during the previous few months.The issues seemed less important after the success of the day but they were still there bubbling under the surface. We could either ignore the issues or take advantage of being in the same room and press on.

We chose to press on.

The truth is that it didn’t really result in a happy ending, at least not yet anyway. It was painful and we didn’t exactly leave on a high. However, even though we did leave with some regrets, in the end we knew it was good not to have ignored the situation.

Unfortunately avoidance is the choice that many of us make when faced with conflict. Sometimes it does seem easier to withdraw, not act at all, or just give in. For others, conflict brings out their competitive side.

There’s no doubt about it, conflict is hard. It’s a tug of war, it’s a debate, and it’s messy. However it’s also something we need to embrace more because it’s also an opportunity for constructive discussion, promoting change, high quality decisions, and stimulating creativity and innovation.

For us confronting the conflict meant we initiated tough conversations about change, accountability, and being true to our stated outcomes.

While we’re not there yet, and although we did a fair bit to assess the situation, we’ll need to do more to consider a variety of options and strategies before implementing the final strategy to deal with the conflict.

For us, while definitely challenging, the process was easier than it might have been for others because we do share many of the same values. There would have been much more conflict if we had different values about what really matters in our work.

So what did we learn along the way?

Confronting conflict is hard, but ultimately it takes far less energy that it would to pretend it didn’t exist.  Ultimately acknowledging and managing the conflict makes us all better, stronger, and more effective. 

Posted on 01-10-09

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