Conflict is a natural part of life. While many of us do not enjoy it, conflict can be healthy. Innovation expert David Burkus believes that a lack of conflict signals a lack of new ideas or a willingness to improve. When properly managed conflict can push us to higher levels of achievement.
The trick is facilitating healthy versus unhealthy conflict.
In his book, When Goliaths Clash: Managing Executive Conflict to Build a More Dynamic Organization, Howard Guttman teaches us about one common source of conflict – how we communicate. He cites research which shows that individuals naturally possess one of three communication styles – passive, assertive and aggressive. They can be mapped on a continuum as follows:
When we communicate with people who communicate with the same style as our own we usually do not experience conflict. As a Canadian, I believe that our nation generally has a passive communication style. In contrast, I recently observed a conversation by two Italians which sounded like a mild yelling match (it wasn’t!).
When we encounter people with who do not use our preferred communication style it can be a source of conflict. A former colleague and I used to have regular conflict. As I reflect on our communication styles, I believe that it was often a result of style differences. My style is somewhere between passive and assertive. Her style is aggressive. My communication breakthrough occurred one day when I began to speak loudly, brashly and interrupt her during a meeting. When I adopted her communication style she responded to me in positive ways I did not anticipate.
Adapting to this style was significantly outside of my comfort zone. However, when I understood and adapted, we were able to make progress.Here are three simple steps to help you minimize communication conflict:
There are many sources of conflict and this model will not solve every problem you encounter. However, I believe that communication style conflict is one which is not often discussed. As you understand, assess and adapt, you will likely solve a few of those daily headaches caused by unhealthy conflict!
Jeff Suderman is a professor and consultant in the field of organizational development. He partners with clients to improve leadership, teamwork, organizational alignment, strategy and their Future-Readiness. He resides in Palm Desert, California. Twitter: @jlsuderman
David Burkus (2012). Managing Conflict Through Innovation.
Howard Guttman (2003) When Goliaths Clash. Mt. Arlington Business Press.