What is Conflict?
According to Meriam Webster Conflict is defined as, to be different, opposed, or contradictory : to fail to be in agreement or accord.
Conflict occurs when we think we are always right and those who disagree with us are wrong. Examples include, not listening to others, always coming up with reasons the ideas of others won’t work, devaluing other’s ideas, arguing with anyone who disagrees with you, refusing to explore other options, making assumptions on others intent or their ideas.
Conflict is simply the energy created by the gap between what we want and what we’re experiencing,” says Nate Regier, a former practicing psychologist and author of Conflict Without Casualties (Berrett-Koehler, 2017). “If we define conflict as energy that’s created by the gap, then the real question is ‘How are we going to use that energy?’”
My Conflict Story
Growing up, I constantly felt I had to prove myself as an immigrant to Canada, which is why I developed conflict as one of my blind spots. Being an immigrant, I barely spoke English and had difficulty learning to write. I was bullied, taunted, and felt the constant need to prove myself to others. This blind spot carried with me into my business and how I interacted with my employees. I became a perfectionist in everything I did and nothing less was acceptable. This attitude created conflict with my employees because I only had one point of view - mine. I didn’t allow room for engagement nor did I create a space for employees to feel safe in contributing their point of view or ideas.
I worked extra hard to make sure my personal success was measured by how well I did in my business. However, I also lost sight that personal success also means how many lives you can empower and motivate people to rise up to be their best, which means sometimes you have to listen to others. I had to make room for healthy conflict so any existing roadblocks between myself and my employees were removed.
There only exists room for commitment to getting the job done and moving forward as an entire team. The success of any company is not built by just one person but an entire team of people willing to overcome conflict and commit to getting the results needed. I recall we had a migration project for a client, In the IT industry, a migration project to a cloud server was not an easy task back then. A lot of preparation, documenting, following the process and collaboration needs to occur. It’s not a one-man effort and usually require more than one person on the project. Since I wanted to prove I could do the project with a quick turnaround time, I made sure my employees understood that as well. I received some objectives by my technical team on this unrealistic expectation, but I was adamant in showcasing our abilities to this new client and I refused to hear their frustrations and stress. As you can imagine, communication lines broke down, conflict started to arise as a result, and the project became a nightmare.
When I look back, I can see how I created the conflict. I didn’t trust my team and didn’t provide the opportunity to listen to them. In turn they felt unsafe and as the project commenced, they withheld communication from me when they were facing challenges because they felt I was unapproachable. Funny thing about conflict, if you don’t have trust all around, people can’t engage in healthy conflict dialogue and this issue rears its ugly head when issues start to arise or when goals/projects can’t be completed.
After this disaster, I realized the issue was my conflict blind spot. When I had to own up to my employees that my leadership behavior caused the conflict and their inability to perform their work effectively, was when I started to change. Part of developing leadership modelling behaviors is in recognizing the impact of actions and behaviors on others and the business. There is no shame. It takes a lot of courage and vulnerability in leadership to model the right behaviors and move an organization forward towards high performing results.
Likky Lavji is the Blind Spot Navigator helping businesses and leaders to identify their personal and organizational blind spots and fixing them.