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Ten myths of conflict?

Harmony in the team makes things run smoothly, but there’s such a thing as too smooth. To make progress, we have to make things change. To make change, we have to admit new ideas. Where there are new ideas, there is disagreement. This means conflict, but this doesn’t have to be bad news. There are a lot of myths around conflict.

MYTH ONE – Team members have to be good friends

A social gathering is quite different from a work team. Teams are formed to get a job done, and needs people who together have all the necessary skills. While it’s bad if they're at loggerheads, there no need for them to form strong friendships. If they do, that’s fine, but people can get on perfectly well in the work setting without wanting to spend extra time together. The important ingredients are mutual respect and a shared desire to complete the project.

MYTH TWO – If there’s a battle between two wills, someone has to give in

When two people disagree, it doesn’t mean one’s right and one’s wrong. They probably both have good points. Good conflict management will enable the best points from both sides to be amalgamated.

MYTH THREE – It’s best to let anger out

High rage may need the catharsis of noisy and energetic release. This doesn’t do any good except to make the angry person feel better, and even that is short-lived. The hot response comes from feeling unable to find a constructive solution. Sometimes, ranting becomes a habit, and habits are hard to break. The more practice people get at taking a cool view, the easier it will become to deal with anger in a constructive way, and to get constructive results.

MYTH FOUR – You have to finish on an agreement

Everyone has views they hold dear, which oppose the dear views of some other people. It’s not possible or desirable to try to break these down. There may have to be a decision that rejects certain views. This needs to be presented as a pragmatic solution, not a slur on anyone’s opinions. You can agree to differ, and maintain respect.

MYTH FIVE Conflict is an emergency and must be sorted

When angry feelings crisscross a meeting people, they want to escape. They may go for a quick agreement just to calm things down. This won’t work if people really care about what’s happening. It’s important to take time to resolve underlying issues. This may involve delaying decisions until people can gather information and think things through.

MYTH SIX – There is never any room for anger

A storm can smash a windmill, but a windmill without wind is no use at all. Uncontrolled rage is a destroyer, but anger can be harnessed to promote change. If nobody is ever angry about anything, nothing will change. Conflict needs to be harnessed, not eliminated.

MYTH SEVEN – If you leave it alone, it will blow over

If feelings are high, it may well be a good idea to sleep on it before going any further. Things can look very different in the morning. If not, it’s important to tackle the issues at an early stage. If it doesn’t blow over, it will grow, and get out of control.

MYTH EIGHT – Angry people won’t communicate

Angry people do communicate, often with sarcasm, putdowns and accusations. It shows high energy, misdirected. Good conflict management will defuse the immediate fire, and find effective ways to communicate the issues and reach solutions that all parties find acceptable.

MYTH NINE – If they’re arguing, they can’t really be committed

It takes energy to argue, and apathetic people don’t bother. If people commit themselves to a project, they should care enough to make their views known.

MYTH TEN – If the leader has proper control, there won’t be conflict

It’s possible to vanquish visible conflict by quelling it as it appears. It won’t abolish the feelings within, although it may well prevent potentially good ideas being voiced. The outward harmony usually comes with negative politics, subversive tactics and get you later games. Exceedingly harmonious groups lose out on quality decisions.

Where there is no conflict, there is a danger of groupthink, a phenomenon explored by Irving Janis. In this, the group goes for consensus above all else. It blocks any development outside that already prescribed. Teams can be totally blocked by this. Every team needs a touch of healthy conflict to stop it getting into a rut. Properly managed, it creates the spark of creativity that every organisation needs.

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© Copyright Trans4mation 2003. Reproduced with permission. Any opinions or views contained in this article are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of Training Reference.
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