I grew up in a loving family, with good parents – I was a privileged child along with my brother and sister. There was one thing, however, that my family, and particularly my parents, did not do well – handle conflict. In fact, they avoided conflict at all costs. Whenever there was value difference, one of the parents would quickly fill the kettle, boil water and make tea. Tea was an amazing beverage – somehow, drinking tea together caused the conflict to subside and all issues were quickly swept under the carpet and seemingly easily forgotten.

I thus went to school, avoiding conflict at all costs, but knowing that if I did end up in a conflict situation, I could always find tea somewhere. I finished my education, fell in love and got married – to someone who loves conflict. She, of course, would not call it “conflict”, but rather “constructive discussion” or something similar, but it was nevertheless conflict.

The first few months of marriage for most people are wonderful – a time of discovery, making allowances for one another, learning selflessness, etc. But after a few months of marriage, value differences are sure to appear. This indeed happened in my situation, and having an internal radar system that is well calibrated to detect conflict, when this reared its head, I immediately went to the kitchen to make tea. In no uncertain terms, not repeatable in this blog, did I hear how rude I was to leave a valuable conversation and go to the kitchen – what was I thinking? At a late stage of my life, therefore, I had to learn, not just how to manage conflict, but how to lead it in the relationship and enjoy the process.

Conflict in business usually leads to a breakdown in relationships. Repeated unresolved conflict and misunderstanding negatively impacts morale and effective teamwork. In fact, research tells us that managers spend 20% of their time on managing conflict of some kind or another. But, managing conflict, although this leads to a potential resolution of the feelings of anger and frustration amongst those involved in the conflict, perhaps doesn’t do enough and misses on some of the learning that could be gained out of the context. I thus prefer a process which I call leading conflict, which can open the door to creative problem-solving, increase a new level of openness and understanding between people, and ultimately lead to higher productivity.

I found that avoiding or managing conflict led me nowhere – it certainly wasn’t going to bring me to a place of maturity in my relationships. Only when I started leading conflict and enjoying the journey somewhat, did I start growing constructively.

5 comments on “Why manage conflict when you could be leading it?

  1. Leela Horvath on

    A good subject Jonathan. Especially for those of us who face almost daily conflicts in decision making – amongst family, friends, office, government. Whether you ‘manage’ or ‘lead’ a conflict, there is no magic formula to make everyone happy, is there?

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  2. Ruth Birk on

    I also grew up in a house where conflict was not present before my brother & myself. My mom always told me it was better not to say something rather than to say something that you are going to regret. That’s not so easy, but something that makes me think twice before speaking. I have been in dentistry for 24 years now and have seen much conflict. Conflict is something that we face nearly every day in dentistry. Conflict surrounds us at home, work and even play!! I listen to what others have to offer and try to find mutual grounds. Conflict seems to almost be a necessary evil in our lives to somehow keep us grounded. I have also learned that I have to be less likely to avoid conflict but rather gently engage conflict. I try to find a win win in conflict. I’m also looking forward to being stretched much more by this blog. Keep up the excellent work Mr. Mills!!

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  3. Kris on

    I remember hearing about your early days of discovering you were now in bed with a woman of conflict. I think I’ve got one too! 😉

    It is difficult to have been raised to ignore conflict and then learn that the ostrich maneuver doesn’t really solve anything.

    I do wish I had a Cricket on my shoulder telling me how to resolve conflict along the way – the Wind can be so hard to hear sometimes.

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