MANY YOUNG PEOPLE GREW UP up thinking that all conflict is injustice. That’s what you get for giving every kid a trophy for showing up for baseball and football. I see many opportunities for teamwork, leadership, innovation, collaboration, healthy cultures, quality products, and sustained value to customers get derailed by the inability of employees and leaders to engage in healthy conflict.
We either turn away and avoid it or attack it with aggression. Take a look at your own situation. Have you noticed any of your colleagues avoid conflict by pretending to be nice to your face but later gossip behind your back? Or look at politics these days. It’s a place for temper tantrums – a cathartic expression of anger – not a forum to exchange and debate ideas. Like junk food, the hunger behind the conflict is never satisfied. As author Jacob Needleman says, we are a society starved for ideas. Conflict has become an injustice to avoid or destroy.
When we blur the lines between winner and loser, we remove the opportunity to manage the conflict we feel inside ourselves. When my kid gets a trophy for participating in soccer, the joys of winning or the pain of losing a game are overshadowed by entitlement. Achievement and its opposite, failure, are neither experienced nor valued. When conflict does show up at our front door, we’re so unfamiliar with how to greet it, we overreact with avoidance or aggression.
Conflict is good. It teaches us self-reliance, confidence, ingenuity, and self-respect. All battles are a battle with the self. When we learn how to face and overcome those internal conflicts, we see others with a new level of compassion and understanding. “I understand you because I have experienced my own conflict. I see myself in you.”