Creative Conflict

Have you ever fallen out with a colleague? Felt like you’ve locked horns with them?

I think I can safely say most of us don’t go around spoiling for a fight. Some days we may be more off than others but generally we want to get along with people that we work with. But it can be easy to get into a disagreement over something that is being discussed in a meeting.

What happens next will decide whether this can turn into creative discussion or into something personal where the possibility of disconnection from the other person becomes a reality.

A few years back, I was coaching someone who was one of the leaders in an organisation. I was looking at helping him with leadership meetings. Meetings are places that, certainly, management spend a lot of time and our experience of them from the amazing to ‘that was a complete waste of time’ informs how we look forward to them.

For this person, he didn’t like these leadership meetings because of the way he was belittled and put down in discussions by other leaders in the group. There were obviously some power dynamics going on there which led to a feeling of disconnect and embarrassment. But things don’t have to be that way.

Passionate disagreement can, in my experience, lead to extraordinary creativity in the solutions it creates. In order for this to happen: the people sitting around the table need to have at least two things in place.

Timothy R. Clark says: “For a team to innovate, people must be willing to disagree, dissent, and challenge the status quo. As a leader, it’s your job to set the conditions for this kind of intellectual bravery.”

The first is safety. The leader of the team or meeting is the only one who can set it up for safety. This is about ‘what happens if I speak up and make a contribution.’ Questions will be running through your mind, like ‘will I be heard?’ And ‘what will others say when I give my opinion?’ There has to be an environment where there is freedom to bring your thoughts without the fear of interpersonal risk. This goes back to last week’s blog on trust. The leaders must create an environment for safe but passionate discussion of the issues.

Which brings me to my second thing. Everyone needs to know the rules of engagement. It is important to state at the outset how we will manage conflict in this team. Disagreement is the sign of a healthy team not an unhealthy one. It means that people are free within this context to bring their opinions. If things get edgy and personal that is the sign that things are no longer respectful, and discussion should be shut down. Focus on the issues and debate vigorously without being critical of other personalities in the room.

What would it be like in your team or workplace if people were free to state their opinion on work related matters and not have to worry about the risk of saying it? Would solutions come quicker? Would engagement in the team be higher?

No disagreement is worth sacrificing the relationship over. It is relationships built on trust that allow rigorous debate to occur, which will only enrich the discussion and ensure creative solutions to the challenges being faced will surface.

The leader I spoke of came to look forward to the leadership meetings. Once the rules of engagement were set, a safe environment was possible. Some truly creative solutions were born.

To learn how you can do this, give me a call.

In the meantime, stay safe.

Mark Billage

Mark Billage

Mark’s passion is to help realise individuals’ potential, be they leaders or team members, through empowering organisational culture. He has spent 7 years leading an organisation based in the non profit sector. In that time, he focused on creating a culture that enabled and empowered individuals, with the aim of seeing a high performing team better able to achieve the organisation’s mission.

Our Vision

To train and equip leaders to transform culture, build successful teams and organisations where everyone is seen, heard and valued for their unique contribution.

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