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What Every Leader Needs to Understand About Conflict

by David Swain

What you want in a team is effective collaboration, not necessarily harmony. Team members do not have to become friends to work effectively together. When it comes to high performing teams, the best teams are the ones that are able to argue, disagree, challenge, reach a decision and then commit to taking aligned action. You want productive conflict, not false harmony. 

False Harmony

When your executive team nods, agrees, and generally goes along with decisions or ideas, your meetings seem harmonious. This is not necessarily good. False harmony is agreement on the surface, but inside your executives have unvoiced disagreements, doubts, and alternative ideas.

How can you detect false harmony? Look at your executives’ actions outside the meetings. Are they not doing what they said they would? Is little or nothing really getting done? Are people blaming others, and not being accountable for their actions? These are all signs of false harmony.

Productive Conflict

Conflict is not necessarily bad. You actually want good conflict because great innovations are often born of it. In order for conflict to be productive, there needs to be effective conversation, and mutual respect. All parties need to be able to say “We see things differently, but we can stay in the conflict long enough to find a way to work out our differences.” Collaboration is not about fighting over “your way” or “my way”, it’s about creating a “third way” of doing things—creating something new.

How can you tell productive conflict from other kinds of conflict? If the conflict leads to an agreement to move forward it is positive conflict. If the parties involved are satisfied that they have had their say, even if their ideas are not implemented, that is positive conflict. Outside the meeting room you should see plans moving forward, and your executives taking responsibility for their actions.


David SwainDavid Swain, BSc Mgmt., MSOD, CEC, PCC with over 30 years’ experience in both coaching the leaders of large organizations and leading them himself.




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