Apr 07, 2015

Collaborative Conflict – The 5 Myths

Art of War

No matter how good the relationships are, whenever two, or more, people are together for any extended length of time, conflict will arise. Whether the source of the conflict is a differing of opinion, the way a given situation is perceived, the lack of quality communication, a finite amount of resources, stress, undefined roles, misaligned goals, or a host of other possible sources, conflict is inevitable. This doesn’t mean that conflict has to be seen as “bad”. In actuality, conflict can be a very collaborative process; one of growth for all parties involved. When this happens, the sum of the parts becomes greater than the whole. Creation of new and better ways to accomplish tasks and reach goals is opened up. All of this adds up to becoming a company that invites differences of opinion, creative ideas, and new innovation so that it can become all of the potential and possibilities it holds within it and the leader in its industry!

When people view conflict as negative, the results will be negative. When people view conflict as positive, the results are positive. It’s called the “Pygmalion Effect”. Here are some myths that explain why people view conflict as a negative and get the result they expect:

Myth 1: I must win the argument.
This assumes that every argument is a win/lose situation, and we always want to be the winner. I’ve known people that have the interpretation of “winning the argument” is when everyone else has been beaten into full submission and agreement with what they want and all the “bodies” are lying on the ground around them waiting to be buried. It’s not a pretty sight. What does this say about a person if they must always “win” arguments? It reveals that they have an extreme need for control, that they know everything there is to know about the subject at hand and that there is no other possible perspective or understanding than theirs. All creativity and innovation is capped.

Myth 2: If you do not agree with me, then you are against me.
People with self-esteem issues believe that people are against them on every issue. They believe they must always be right in order for to validate themselves as “OK”. People with high self-esteem can have strong disagreements without feeling threatened and allow new ideas and concepts to arise. I attended a men’s group a few weeks ago and saw several “taboo” subjects discussed and without any emotional flare-ups. We discussed politics and religion from polar-opposite positions and not one person became upset or defensive. I was totally amazed by the group’s high self-esteem and mutual respect. So, when disagreements are present, it may be that no one is “right” and something new is created.

Myth 3: I will avoid you, because we have had conflicts in the past.
We create an association in our minds that, since we had a conflict with someone in the past, we will have conflict with them again. When we think about the negative interaction, we usually remember the worst part of it and we elicit the full force of what we saw, heard, and felt at that time. In hopes of avoiding all of that, we find ourselves avoiding the person. We have regressed to becoming emotionally 8-years-old.

Myth 4: The problem will just go away on its own.
Isn’t it amazing that sometimes we really believe that the cosmic universe will cause a problem to resolve itself without any action on our part? If we don’t think about it, if we don’t discuss it, and if we just leave it alone, it doesn’t exist. When we do that, we create the “pink elephant in the room”.

Myth 5: Other people know what I am thinking, and I know what they are thinking.
I call this Thought Osmosis. What an interesting concept! It’s as if everyone is assumed to possess ESP (Extra Sensory Perception) and that everyone knows what other people are thinking and, at the very least, what they mean. But, here’s a major reason we shouldn’t assume to know what people are thinking or even what they mean by what they say; for the 500 most commonly used words in the English language there are over 14,000 dictionary definitions! I think it’s safe to say that the vast majority of us haven’t developed our ESP potential, so it’s important for us to ask questions even if it’s just to make sure we have a correct understanding.

I’d like for you to notice what some of these myths have in common and how some are different. The first two are assertive and aggressive. The last three are avoidance tactics. When conflict arises and you feel yourself being aggressive or avoiding interaction, that should be an alarm to rethink how you’re handling the conflict.

I have much more to share on Collaborative Conflict and very real solutions to help you and your company, organization, and/or family become more collaborative and have less conflict. So, please consider reading my other posts on Collaborative Conflict.

Creating life in forward motion,
Dr. Edward Lewellen