Healthy vs. Unhealthy Conflict

I lived this today! Nayla (Hamid) SaracciniLiz Fosslien, and Rachel Cruz! Thank you for showing this in its true context!

We had a Zoom meeting today and I was late! (I know, I know!! Mea culpa!) But by the time I got into the meeting, there was already a conflict underway that had been brewing since the last couple of times we’d met together. Because I was late, I didn’t know what had precipitated the conflict and had to wait a bit to explore what was going on. We’ve so conditioned ourselves to think that each of us is correct that we fail to see the problem itself. Sometimes we attribute it to people – people are the problem, but that’s not usually the case. This takes exploration and the ability to put ourselves aside for the moment to probe into the real issue. Yet, we routinely get amygdala-hijacked, and then the conflict takes on a personal nature when it doesn’t have to.

We must condition ourselves to think along three distinct lines: 1) recognize the emotion we are experiencing, 2) identify why it triggered our amygdala response, and 3) determine the true issue.

Now, I know I’ve experienced many of these conflicts and some in which I really lost all control. (I remember being in a yearly review where I lost control of my tears and had to leave for home – it was pretty harrowing. But what made it worse was that my manager and I were in a “fishbowl conference room” – a conference room consisting of three walls of glass where anyone walking by could watch what was happening. That was the worst one I experienced.)

Today’s conflict ended in tears as well. Actually, I should restate that. And there’s a big difference in the restatement…

Today’s conflict had tears, but it didn’t end in tears – we went on to explore the actual issue, find a resolution to the issue, and find a beautiful transformation in the end to something I hadn’t anticipated before – the recommitment of each of our members to be real with each other because we value what each other brings to the table. It was truly a beautiful conflict – we did it right!

And, we aren’t afraid of tears anymore. We honor the tears – because we value each other so much. Tears mean that someone has been hurt. Tears mean there’s a misunderstanding right at the edge of a discussion, that if we pushed past the tears just a little bit, we’d find the Truth, along with more Trust and Acceptance of each other. Psychological Safety. Inside Psychological Safety is the intelligence we need to face ourselves and our teams, vulnerable as we are, for the good of the team. We owe ourselves lots of tears and they are sweet when they are shared with those we value and who value us back. Here’s to amazing Teams, one of which I was a part of today!

Acknowledgment: Liz Fosslien for her beautiful illustrations