When conflict can be just what you need

The effect of conflict on decision making, ideas and communication

When individuals are faced with conflict, we typically experience our body’s natural fight or flight reflex. There is a happy middle ground where a positive approach to managing conflict can be a useful catalyst for innovation and growth, at the same time strengthening individuals and the collective group.

When conflict can be a strength

Avoid a group mindset

A board of trustees or a senior management team can develop a group mindset, where the decisions made are not reflective of the individual members’ thoughts, but represents a blander view that everyone can agree on. It has been widely reported that there is a lack of diversity amongst charity boards which can make the group mindset a very real risk to the effectiveness of the board.

Better developed ideas

Ideas that are subject to a challenge will have been well thought out and developed. Very rarely is our first version of an idea perfect and unable to be enhanced through a robust discussion of its merits. Ideas are “road tested” before they are presented in their final form. The process can also make us more committed to an idea.

New and innovative ideas

Conflict can involve a lot of dialogue back and forth, with input from a variety of sources. This process can encourage creativity and flexibility, leading to new ideas that wouldn’t be identified in any other way.

Drives change

Conflict usually leads to change and solutions being identified, which is driven by the often intense nature of conflict and challenge. This is then difficult to ignore once an expression of opposing views has taken place.

Skill development

Conflict creates feelings of discomfort and anxiety. But learning to manage it properly instils a sense of important leadership and life skills, such as listening, compromise, negotiation, influencing and accepting when you are wrong.

Understanding other styles and behaviours

Observing how colleagues handle conflict can teach you a lot about them, their values, their styles and patterns of behaviour. By managing conflict, we also learn about ourselves too. Such observations can provide useful insights into colleagues, which can lead to more effective interpersonal relationships. Healthy conflict can produce positive outcomes, deepen relationships and act as a catalyst for good governance and growth.

Tips to encourage healthy conflict

  1. Ensure all board members feel their views and contribution are valued equally, by being open and encouraging participation and questions.
  2. Maintain a diverse board composition, particularly ensuring that the characteristics of the beneficiaries of the charity are well represented.
  3. Focus on the facts of the matter and not the individual proposing them.
  4. Get to the point quickly through calm and assertive behaviour, allowing more time to be spent working towards a resolution, based primarily on reaching an understanding rather than an agreement.
  5. Often a neutral or independent person joining discussions where conflict is likely can prove useful in cultivating the right environment.
Read more on when conflict can be a positive

Next month we will be focusing on conflict with third parties.

If you would like to turn around the conflict in your board or organisation we can provide training, facilitation and support. Get in touch with a member of our Not for Profit team on 01903 234094 to find out more.