My Conflict with Conflict


I love learning. One reason is my thirst for understanding what I don’t know and believe me that covers a lot of ground. Another is discovering why things happen and seeing patterns emerge that create the illusion of predictability. Perhaps the most important reason I enjoy learning is being able to see my own biases and blind spots; both roadblocks limiting my potential. I learn most through reading and discipline myself to alternate between fiction for entertainment and non-fiction for self-development. I recently completed a training module on managing conflict for a customer, and during my research, I discovered something: I have a conflict with conflict.

My teaching premise on the topic is that conflict is good for individuals and organizations. Conflict inspires learning, broaden perspectives, drives innovation, and helps solve problem. Collaboration, a mode of conflict, is a core value in many companies. I felt I did a compelling job sharing this take on conflict but it wasn’t easy. You see, I am a bit of a fraud on this topic.

I do not like conflict.

I avoid it. I try and head it off at the pass and compromise my way to defuse it, which is another way of saying I yield to others’ desires. When I feel strongly about an issue, I will put my stake in the ground but will, too often, be amenable to moving it to be a good team player. But if my premise about conflict is true, my tendency to compromise does not serve me nor the situation. If I hope to be my best self, I need to change my tendency and resulting behavior.

As a result, I have to make peace with conflict. This looks like seeking it out, embracing it, and getting smart about how to engage. I have worked with people who are really good with conflict. They never step away from it. If I didn’t know better, I think they actually enjoy it. They create it on demand when it suits the situation. They incite a room to get peoples’ ideas and thoughts out in the open. The take the minority position to flush it out, feed it oxygen, and get it fully vetted. When they feel strongly, they firmly plant their stake in the ground, and invite, no dare, anyone to move it. But when they see an issue as trivial, they swat it away like I pesky fly. Their ability to adapt their conflict style to best meet the situation provokes new thinking in others while making sure that their personal needs are met.

I am committed to becoming more like this person. If you are like me and do not enjoy conflict, I challenge you to join me. I am convinced that we will not only be seen as more genuine and straightforward, but that we will be a more trusted and effective colleague to others. While this change will not be easy (adaptive change seldom is), I will take being a trusted, respected colleague over an easy going one every time.

Finally, I came across this great 12-minute TED Talk on conflict while doing my research and encourage you to check it out:


Have a great week,

Bob Stapleton