AE: When we start working with clients, we do exploratory work with them around [asking], ‘how do you view conflict? What is your conflict mindset?’ Because people often don't understand that they already have a very strong concept of conflict being negative. They'll say things like, ‘it makes me feel anxious and angry, and defensive, and misunderstood, and frustrated, and stressed. They then understand, ‘oh, okay, so that's why I'm avoiding the conversations,’ because conflict can be something very emotional for people. We are emotional beings, and we don't want to feel all of those stressful, negative emotions.
When we say to them, ‘okay, so what about some of the good things that can come out of conflict?’ They'll say, ‘it clears the air. Having a conflict conversation with someone that goes well, it clears the air.’
It also makes us understand each other better. When we understand colleagues better, we work with them better. That leads to stronger relationships, it leads to better communication. It leads to people being able to share ideas with each other safely, without the fear of sounding stupid or out of touch. That leads to creativity and growth within an organisation, and learning, and diverse viewpoints. And we want diverse viewpoints in the workplace, and at the board level. We don't want the groupthink that otherwise ensues.
Conflict can also be about change, and resolution, and energy. It will happen, it's normal and inevitable, like I said at the beginning. Conflict is a state. Then we can, depending on how we address it, we change the state of conflict.
But I think that most of us, because of our fear of conflict, don't even want to touch it, don't want to have conversations, and therefore often rely on HR, for example, to resolve issues for us. That usually leads to, not always but very often, to formal process and potentially legal claims.
I think that sometimes maybe boards have a hard time asking for help, because – this isn't just at board level, we see it a lot – conflict also brings shame. People think, I don't want to ask for help, because that makes me sound like a failure. That's very shaming, when actually we can all use some help when it comes to conflict.