“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.” — Peter Senge
I recently interviewed Jon Levy, a behavioral scientist and author of You’re Invited, and he said something during our conversation that really stuck with me. According to him, one of the common misconceptions about psychological safety is that the goal is to avoid conflict. However, it is the opposite.
In a setting where people feel psychologically safe, they are more willing to face and embrace conflict to come up with a solution. When you make someone feel comfortable with bringing up hard truths and pointing out problems or potential problems that may arise from a certain decision or situation, the ensuing conflict becomes productive.
Sometimes, we think conflict means that things are going wrong in our relationships. But disputes are inevitable and often necessary. They are agents of change, growth, and learning, and when done in a healthy and constructive way, they can be very fruitful and rewarding.
As leaders, we need to learn not just to manage conflict but to facilitate safe spaces where people can hash out opposing ideas and see if there is a solid middle ground that the team can walk on and build from.
We need to be more open to receiving feedback and opinions that wouldn’t necessarily be in line with ours, and see the merits of those opposing views, because sometimes we might be wrong. And what the general consensus is might not necessarily be the best option. Sometimes the gold can be found in the quietest voices of the minority in the team, and I am not just talking about race, gender, etc.
Conflict allows us to see problems early on, think of possible solutions or alternatives to those, and come up with more creative and better ideas. The diversity of ideas enriches everyone when people approach the discussion with a learner’s mindset.
It cultivates our curiosity and reminds us that we aren’t always infallible. It also broadens our limited perspectives and allows us to ask new questions we’ve never asked or even considered before.
Plus, it has the potential to strengthen our working relationships with our teams. We don’t have to always be agreeable. In fact, it makes relationships more meaningful as disputes teach us to listen and be open to new insights. It is a practice of mutual respect and understanding, and the sincerity involved in valuing opposing viewpoints strengthens relationships.
Although productive conflict requires a lot of emotional intelligence and a certain level of open-mindedness and maturity, there’s untapped potential there, waiting. When done right, in a healthy, respectful manner, conflict might just be the key to success.
A team of people who can say what needs to be said when it needs to be said is infinitely more valuable than a group of yes-person just wanting to avoid a healthy debate. Thank you for reading A Brilliant Tribe.