The Inevitability of Conflict in Change

by | Aug 31, 2019 | Change |

Conflict is unavoidable. We experience it within ourselves and with other people; it’s part of being human. When we work in teams and organisations and when we engage in work that changes how teams and organisations function, there is a potential for conflict to be part of our daily lives.

The positive sides of conflict (yes, positive) is that conflict tends to happen when you care about something, someone, or a cause, when you have an opinion, when you have passion, drive, ambition, dreams, desire, and when you wish the world was different than it is. Being involved in organisational change projects tend to be all about this, trying to make the organisation function better or differently than it currently does.

And so we disagree and argue with colleagues. Patrick Lencioni talks about healthy conflict in meetings, Tim Arnold talks about healthy tension in teams, and Donald Miller talks about it as essential in stories.

And yes, sometimes our way of engaging in conflict results in frustration and annoyance with our colleagues. Sometimes this simmers for a long time and sometimes it boils over. And we lash out. Usually the lashing out incident doesn’t happen in a vacuum; it is usually happens in a context, with a history, a culmination and climax of sorts. And we last out causing hurt, pain, broken trust, and broken relationship.

Unfortunately, this is often a part of change processes and thus perhaps we should expect it to happen. Obviously, we need to work with our teams to diffuse the negative simmering tension as much as we can and create spaces and expectations where our teams can vent in healthy ways and learn to embrace healthy tension. But negative conflict will happen in our change projects.

Communication is always at least two-way – one person says, writes, something and the other or others receive it.  And often what we say or write is understood differently by the receiver than we intended. 

And so, when someone has the courage to talk to us about how we are communicating because they have been hurt by it or offended by it, it is important for us to listen and hear them and to own the fact that it had this impact. Denying or justifying what we did, even if it wasn’t our intent, only makes the situation worse.  Expressing regret and asking how to make it right are more positive options to choose as they help us learn and grow as humans.

Scott Perry has a simple, but great article that is good to read at least once a week to remind us how to respond when we are the ones causing the hurt regardless of whether it was intentional or not.

It’s our choice how to respond. And how we respond says a lot about who we are.

Photo by Chris Sabor


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