In With The “Good” Conflict, Out With The Bad

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    Yes, the Inuit can identify 50 different kinds of snow. But in order to be effective at work, you just need to recognize two kinds of conflict:  one that’s essential for success, and one that gets in the way of it.


    In With The “Good” Conflict, Out With The Bad

    Many people assume that conflict at work is a bad thing.

    But they have it wrong.

    Conflict, in fact, is essential for our success.

    The key is to recognize the difference between two broad categories of conflict: “good” conflict and “bad” conflict.

    “Good” conflict involves direct and passionate debate over ideas: the most effective strategy, the most promising hire, the most impactful design, the most efficient process, and so on. Good conflict makes us smarter, individually and collectively. We absolutely depend upon this kind of conflict to be our best.

    “Bad” conflict focuses on people and personal characteristics rather than on ideas. It calls into question others’ motives or value or character. It leaves people defensive and less connected.

    The best workplaces have lots of good conflict: people are engaged by the challenges they face, and they trust and respect one another enough to butt heads when necessary to arrive at the right solutions.

    And at the worst workplaces, there’s lots of bad conflict: backbiting, rumors, blame. The result: little learning, reduced engagement and poor performance.

    To be most effective at work, you need to encourage the good kind of conflict, and discourage the bad. And when the two overlap, as they sometimes do, you need to help people tease them apart.

    More to come…

6 responses to In With The “Good” Conflict, Out With The Bad

  1. Lee Rush says:

    What do I think? I think this was your best one yet! You were totally into this piece: your language; your body movements; your smiling; and the shirt–I always look at your shirts to make sure you never wear the same one! Seriously — these video posts are really “good” (sorry for the “technical term”). Keep ’em coming.

    1. Richard Cohen says:

      Thanks, Lee.

  2. Stu Summer says:

    Dear Dr. Cohen,

    I enjoyed this post. But it is way too complicated: could you reduce the kinds of conflicts a bit for me? ;o)

    Isn’t it also true that some of the conflicts about individuals can be productive to tackle? We just successfully addressed some personal/organizational conflicts here. It was quite generative.

    Thanks for your work!

    Stu Summer
    The EARTH Program at Hawthorne Valley Waldorf School

    1. Richard Cohen says:

      Hi Stu,

      Great point. Yes, even the “bad” conflicts–those that are about people and personalities rather than ideas–can lead to essential learning and growth. When conducted with skill, sensitivity, and open minds (and if necessary, with the help a mediator/facilitator!), important lessons await. And individuals/teams can be strengthened.

      Too often, however, conflicts about people and personalities remain underground and become toxic: They eat away at an organization’s esprit de corps and lead to poor performance.

      Congratulations to you and your colleagues for making it work.

      Thanks for writing.

  3. Anna Maria says:

    Richard…It may sound corny, but I thoroughly enjoy your posts. The information is always relevant and arrives just when I need it. Thank you.

    1. Richard Cohen says:

      Your welcome.

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