Conflict and Collaboration

by | March 21, 2012 Categories:

Conflict and Collaboration

Peter Senge implies that conflict is potentially something to be sought out and surfaced.

In great teams, conflict becomes productive.  The free flow of conflicting ideas is critical for creative thinking, for discovering new solutions no one individual would have come to on his own.

He identifies it as a place of possibility and where we will find opportunities for creativity and innovation.  If this is true, why do many of us demonstrate a significant aversion to conflict?  The simple answer is that many don’t feel safe when engaging in conflict.

Morton Deutsch, social psychologist, identifies the basic elements of interpersonal conflict.  These include:

  • People (two or more)
  • Interact and perceive (this can be verbal or non-verbal)
  • Incompatible difference between or threats to
  • Resources, needs, and/or values
  • Resulting in a behavioral response from the parties (Point of Conflict)
  • Which will either escalate or de-escalate the conflict.

The source of conflict could be said to reside between our ears.  It is in our interpretation of differences of opinion, or perspective, as threatening and dangerous.  In her book, The Last Word on Power, Tracy Goss introduces the notion of the “Universal Human Paradigm.”  The model is structured as follows:

  • There is a way things “should” be.
  • When they are that way, things are right.
  • And when they are not that way, there is something wrong with me, with them, or with it.

Or, stated in another way:

  • In any discussion where we are experiencing differences of opinion, there is obviously a “right” and a “wrong” answer.
  • From my perspective, it is obvious I am right.
  • Given that we cannot both be right, then you are obviously wrong.
  • In the context of the Universal Human Paradigm, it is my job to fix this discord by convincing you that I am right and you are wrong.

It is our propensity to fall into this paradigm that compromises our effectiveness at collaboration.  We become polarized in our positions, and our thinking and behavior becomes focused on defending our perspective.  Very little effort, if any, is directed at understanding the thinking of the person whom we now see as our adversary.  In order to learn effective strategies for conflict engagement, we must challenge this paradigm.

The value in conflict is not found in fixing it, but rather in acknowledging and understanding the differences.   While we often state our respect for diversity of opinion as a core value, this respect is often absent from our challenging conversations.


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