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Lunell's ability to present material in logical, concise, and interesting format contributed greatly to the success of our staff development. Her unique ability to weave comments from the department into the program and to moderate over poignant and sometimes spirited discussions gave the seminars the substance and credibility necessary to validate these projects. Her work has been invaluable, especially during this time of transition.

--Senior Attorney


Conflict, the Spice for Groups

"I just don't want any conflict."

The unintended result of this type of comment can be a loss of brainpower and energy for the organization. The issue is not "no conflict" but "how to conflict."

Bland diets were prescribed for hospital patients who were not on an IV, but who couldn't take substantive food. Compare those people with those who use pepper sauce as a beverage. Spice in food is like conflict among people. Most food requires something to liven it and make it distinct.

The best group recipes have just enough conflict or disagreement to keep people thinking about their purpose and methods (what the group is doing and how the group is doing it). Disagreements or conflicts should happen regularly enough (not all the time) to know the best thinking of all members is being used.

What about no conflict? When all members agree all the time, someone is redundant. Or, no conflict may occur because of fear of disagreeing. Who wants to be seen as a troublemaker, a whiner, or not a team player? Whatever the reason, no conflict may be holding your group back. Just as good is the enemy of best, conflict helps groups learn and act with more intention and effectiveness.

Conflict can be defined as a combination of behavior and concerns. Below is a framework for examining interpersonal or inter-group conflict. Use it to help committees and boards evaluate the conflict recipe for being effective and improving.

  CONFLICTING CONCERNS COMMON CONCERNS
INCOMPATIBLE BEHAVIOR conflict false conflict
COMPATIBLE BEHAVIOR latent conflict no conflict

Frequently what appears to be a disagreement (conflict) is really a misunderstanding (false conflict). Designate one person to listen carefully to the whole story from the disagreeing parties and be able to summarize their concerns. This person can bring the two sides together to clarify the misunderstanding. This is much easier than letting something fester until it blows up. Sometimes the designated person identifies a true disagreement. In this case the committee or Board should clearly describe the choices and a decision should be made. Present facts, not personalities. Most people don't like conflict because it can become personal. To have the right kind of conflict, it has to be safe to disagree.

Latent conflict is perhaps the hardest conflict for groups. Things look fine at the board meeting, but there are parking lot meetings that drain energy. Leadership should determine if there is a real or false conflict and resolve it, usually through Board action.

Whatever the conflict, remember it is an essential spice. Those who can use it are popular cooks.

© Lunell Haught, PhD, CMC

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