I stood there in front of the audience in silence.
I had no idea what to say. I was presenting a workshop for school leaders on different types of meetings. In the middle of the workshop, we talked about conflict. I mentioned the idea of healthy conflict and one audience member interrupted me.
"There's no such thing as healthy conflict."
I was initially stunned. You don't expect to get heckled in a little workshop in regional Australia. But we ended up having a conversation about it.
I think a lot of people might agree with that man.
I think there IS such thing as healthy conflict and here are five reasons why it can be healthy:
1. Healthy organizations conflict... healthily
Every leader wants to build a healthy organization (that I've come across, anyway). Those healthy organizations we love the idea of, where people are pursuing true high performance? They have healthy conflict. It's the dysfunctional organizations that don't do conflict at all or do it unhealthily.
2. Conflict builds trust and respect
Contrary to the opinion of that man in the audience, there is such thing as healthy conflict. Think about it. Do you want the boss who always thinks he's right? Or do you want the boss who uses emotional intelligence to draw out of you what you really think? A boss who is okay with you disagreeing with her? We all want the latter because we trust her and respect her.
3. Conflict reveals toxic behaviour and toxic employees
My favourite idea right now is 'the untriggerable leader'. The advantage of having healthy conflict in a workplace is it reveals toxic behaviour and toxic employees. Some people due to a whole variety of other issues can't have healthy conflict. Unfortunately, to be blunt, if you want that type of person to be part of a high-performance team they're going to have to learn fast or leave. Healthy conflict will make this glaringly obvious.
4. Healthy conflict is easy accountability
When Patrick Lencioni did a survey of people about which issues they struggled with in teams, vulnerability was number one. More than 60% of teams struggled with vulnerability. I get it, vulnerability is hard because it goes beyond issues. It addresses others' behaviours. Healthy conflict is the gateway to accountability. Ideally, your best performers will actually help you hold other team members accountable if you can create an atmosphere of healthy conflict.
5. Conflict can improve decision-making
When I catch up with my mates, we have passionate disagreements about what Netflix shows we like. I always say to teams I work with, 'Shouldn't your discussions about what you do be at least as passionate as my Netflix chats with friends?' The reason is, when we all nod our heads and don't share what we really think (when we don't have healthy conflict) we are missing out on key ingredients. Those ingredients are the difference between half-baked ideas and revolutionary-made-in-France-croissant ideas.
What about you? Are you in the middle of a workplace conflict, right now?
Are you the manager? Or are you the employee and your boss is the difficult person!