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Conflict: A secret weapon?

By: Paul du Toit – regular contributor

It is our response to conflict that creates an outcome – either good or bad – not the conflict itself

Conflict A secret weaponAs humans we experience a powerful compulsion to retreat from conflict that is not of our own making. Put simply, if it’s not my problem, why should I have to deal with it? Answered simply, there can be many lasting benefits to approaching conflict as an opportunity – rather than as a barrier to peace.

Conflict in both our personal our business lives is not only unavoidable, it is inevitable. Just as it is inevitable that there will be an earthquake somewhere on planet earth in the coming week, either great or mild, so you can expect one form of conflict to occur in your life. It’s unavoidable. What is however avoidable is an assumption that conflict should always have negative consequences – that’s simply not true. Here’s why:
• If partners did not show disapproval of behaviour they dislike, how would their other half know what their partner’s expectations are?
• If students did not protest, political establishments would remain unchanged throughout the decades, even centuries.
• If customers never complained, how would service providers be challenged to correct their mistakes or improve their products?

Conflict is a product of dissonance or disagreement. If not addressed and some resolution achieved, the conflict is likely to be perpetuated. However progress requires dissonance as its catalyst. It therefore stands to reason that conflict in instances where progress is the result can be seen as healthy rather than undesirable.

The skill that needs to be developed by individuals and by extension teams, is the ability to absorb dissent in a rational way and ask the question: ‘What does this mean?’. That in itself is tough, as humans are primed towards a ‘flight’ instinct when criticised, so the tendency is to run or defend. But by interpreting a contrary view as an opportunity to gain insight or simply a chance to learn something, potential conflict can be converted into a positive outcome.

Read the full feature in Cold Link Africa January 2016 page 40.

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