Something Good Might Come Out of This
Some of us wish that conflict would go away, but think about it for a moment: have you ever experienced better results after the storm of disagreement? Isn’t this better than pretending everything is okay when it’s not? We want to resolve conflict, hoping we can get everyone to agree, but that doesn’t always happen. So what do you do in a conflict situation when intelligent people disagree and they are both right? What if they are both wrong?
A good place to start is to take a look at what drives us to conflict. Abraham Maslow wrote about the human hierarchy of needs. He said that once basic needs are met we set them aside and higher level needs become the center of attention. The most basic need is survival. At this level we are totally self-centered, and we have good reason to be. We would do just about anything to meet our need for food, water, and shelter—even if it leads to conflict with other people. Once these basic physical needs are met, we operate at a higher level, meeting the needs of our family and community. Now, the conflict is between my group and another group.
In the workplace, you don’t see people too worried about the basic needs for survival and security, but you do see the higher level need for achievement. At first, one might think that the achievement need would lead to cooperation. However, conflict occurs at this level because we each want to get the job done right and we all don’t agree on what this means. The conflict can be intense because there is a great deal riding on it.
Conflict is part of living; it is neither good nor bad. The challenge is to make conflict constructive. In our workshop, Thriving on Conflict, we do an exercise that demonstrates unconstructive conflict that accomplishes nothing: two people face each other and the only thing they are allowed to say is, “I’m right.” They repeat this phrase back and forth, and typically, they say it louder and with more passion. It’s fun to watch and see what people learn from this. Talking louder with more emotion doesn’t help; they get nowhere. This is typical of many unconstructive conflict situations: people get on the defensive and don’t go anywhere positive….
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