Those who know me best are well aware that I don’t shy away from conflict. Though I don’t seek out arguments, I’m not put off by them, and I don’t back away from them. In fact, I think sometimes arguments and disagreements are some of the most healthy conversations we can have. They make us better. They give us new perspective. If we’re truly listening and engaging in the conversation, they can persuade us to change our minds, or they can help us solidify our point of view.
Author Patrick Lencioni, in his book The Five Dysfunctions of a Team, warns that fear of conflict causes us to get trapped in political systems, rather than beneficial collaborative environments. “Politics,” he says, “is when people choose their words and actions based on how they want others to react rather than based on what they really think.”
When we fear conflict, we say what we think others want to hear, and we loose a little of ourselves in the process. In the process, we make our teams – our families, businesses, churches, and other relationships – worse. I’ve seen this play out throughout my career: teams of people who are willing to embrace conflict are ultimately more successful and more cohesive than teams who sweep their disagreements under the rug.
In the following TED Talk, Margaret Heffernan explains how conflict can lead to progress, and how a good “devil’s advocate” can help propel us to greater heights than a whole team of agreeable, pleasant colleagues. Consider the words of Lencioni and Heffernan the next time you find yourself in the midst of conflict. Lean into the disagreement in a healthy way, and make yourself and your team better.