Circling Back To The Power and Blessing of Conflict

Good TimberRecently I was asked an interesting question that needs further elaboration, than the 30-seconds I could devote to the answer.  The question, “As a disabled person, in a professional setting (workplace), do I expect others to accommodate me?”  At the time, I used pieces of Douglas Malloch’s poem “Good Timber” as an analogy to help answer this question, stating that a tree in a forest does not demand another tree stop growing in their direction for sunshine, air and water.  Thus becoming a forest giant through individual growth, adaptation, individual choice, time, goal setting, and working with other trees.

Here is Douglas Malloch’s poem “Good Timber” declaring the natural law, “Conflict is Good!

Good Timber
by Douglas Malloch

The tree that never had to fight
For sun and sky and air and light,
But stood out in the open plain
And always got its share of rain,
Never became a forest king
But lived and died a scrubby thing
.

The man who never had to toil
To gain and farm his patch of soil,
Who never had to win his share
Of sun and sky and light and air,
Never became a manly man
But lived and died as he began
.

Good timber does not grow with ease:
The stronger wind, the stronger trees;
The further sky, the greater length;
The more the storm, the more the strength.
By sun and cold, by rain and snow,
In trees and men good timbers grow
.

Where thickest lies the forest growth,
We find the patriarchs of both.
And they hold counsel with the stars
Whose broken branches show the scars
Of many winds and much of strife.
This is the common law of life
.

Discussion

?u=http3.bp.blogspot.com-CIl2VSm-mmgTZ0wMvH5UGIAAAAAAAAB20QA9_IiyVhYss1600showme_board3.jpg&f=1&nofb=1True story, I learned to swim by being thrown into the deep end of a lake and told to get back to shore on my own; my mother was never one for “easy lessons.”  The conflict made me understand and learn how to coordinate movement, and I learned to swim.  Not well, and to this day, I swim like I am beating the water into submission, not in a manner that is conducive to smooth and flowing coordinated movement.  The conflict of motion and resistance, movement and flow has taught me a lot about science, engineering, hydraulics, and much more; but I do not thank my mother for this “swimming” lesson!

Good timber does not grow with ease:
The stronger wind, the stronger trees;
The further sky, the greater length;
The more the storm, the more the strength.
By sun and cold, by rain and snow,
In trees and men good timbers grow
.

Conflict clipart resolved, Conflict resolved Transparent ...As a process of learning and developing, conflict has been the driving factor in all of our lives.  Conflict is a tool, and like all tools, when used appropriately, it can build, enhance, strengthen, and create.  Whereas, if the tool is improperly used, destruction, damage, and chaos are spawned.  Regardless, life lessons can be learned in both uses of conflict when two additional tools are added, self-reflection over time.  It took a long time to realize the value of science in the lessons of swimming taught in almost drowning.  Remember, the forest giant in Douglas Malloch’s poem did not become a forest king without scars.

Where thickest lies the forest growth,
We find the patriarchs of both.
And they hold counsel with the stars
Whose broken branches show the scars
Of many winds and much of strife.

Conflictpreventie en -management voor zorgverleners ...Conflict happens; what a person chooses to do with that conflict and how that person considers conflicting occurrences is how the labels “good,” “bad,” “valuable,” “beneficial,” etc., are applied.  McShane and Von Gilnow (2004, p. 390) postulated, “conflict as beneficial [when] intergroup conflict improves team dynamics, increase cohesiveness, and task orientation. … [C]onditions of moderate conflict, motivates team members to work more efficiently toward goals increasing productivity.”  The sentiment regarding conflict as a tool and beneficial is echoed throughout the research of Jehn (1995).  Jehn (1995) reflected that the groups researched labeled the conflict as beneficial, good, bad, etc. based on the group’s dynamics and the conflicts faced and settled, the groups formed an integrated model for organizational conflict.  Essentially, how the conflict is approached and used by the team members individually and collectively dictates how beneficial the conflict is for the team and the organization.

The stronger wind, the stronger trees;
The further sky, the greater length;
The more the storm, the more the strength.
By sun and cold, by rain and snow,
In trees and men good timbers grow
.

Rao (2017) built upon previous researchers’ shoulders, perceiving conflict being a tool, and provided vital strategies for leaders to employ if they choose to minimize conflict; however, if conflict is minimized, a caution is required.  Minimizing conflict just to minimize conflict is not the road to success, but the road to ruination.  Douglas Malloch was quite clear on this point and it must be understood.

The tree that never had to fight
For sun and sky and air and light,
But stood out in the open plain
And always got its share of rain,
Never became a forest king
But lived and died a scrubby thing
.

The man who never had to toil
To gain and farm his patch of soil,
Who never had to win his share
Of sun and sky and light and air,
Never became a manly man
But lived and died as he began
.

Good timber does not grow with ease:
The stronger wind, the stronger trees;
The further sky, the greater length;
The more the storm, the more the strength.
By sun and cold, by rain and snow,
In trees and men good timbers grow
.

PPT - Developing Your Conflict Competence PowerPoint ...Thus, it cannot be stated enough, nor without sufficient emphasis, the leader who chooses to minimize conflict is leading their team to destruction, ruination, and despair.  But, isn’t the path of less conflict more restful and peaceful?  What about all those people who claim conflict is bad, fighting and war are terrible things and should be avoided at all costs.  Let us examine Douglas Malloch further:

Whose broken branches show the scars
Of many winds and much of strife.

Good TimberAs a child, I had the privilege of examining up close and personal a forrest giant.  The closest branch to the ground was 35’ in the air, the trunk had a girth of more than 25’, and the tree stood on the edge of an embankment.  Gloriously large specimen of a maple tree.  The tree hosted several families of squirrels, birds, and who knows how many other woodland creatures.  When the tree was permanently damaged by a hurricane in 1989, a company paid my grandmother a princely sum to harvest this tree for the hardwood.  My brother and I counted the rings to know the age of the tree and got to over 200 years.  A true forrest giant indeed.  As the tree was harvested for lumber, it was discovered the tree had been shot and wounded, several branches had been damaged by fire, multiple branches had been broken off and healed over, barbed wire was embedded in the tree and some wood was poisioned by the iron, and the harvester told us a lot about what the tree had experienced during its lifetime.Managed Quotes | Managed Sayings | Managed Picture Quotes

Rao (2017) intimated that “conflict builds character, whereas crisis defines character” [p. 93].  Recognizing that conflict labels are an individual choice, and character building is a choice left to the individual to onboard or shun, one is left with several questions, when conflict occurs, and crisis happen, what do you choose, fold or grow?

Kipling writes a “Just So Story” titled “The Tree and the Grass.”  The tree boasts about its strength, its height, its ability, and strength, and one day the tree falls prey to the wind and falls.  However, what is not clearly delineated, is that the tree is not in a forrest, but on a plain.  The moral according to Kipling was that, one should “never condemn others looking at your greatness as nothing exists for ever.”   While the moral is correct, and the lesson important, the fact that the conflict and crisis the tree faced, the wind, was on this occaision crippling and life shattering, is the cogent point for focus.  Douglas Malloch points out another very important point:

The tree that never had to fight
For sun and sky and air and light,
But stood out in the open plain
And always got its share of rain,
Never became a forest king
But lived and died a scrubby thing
.

The tree on the plain is never prepared for crisis and conflict, and falls prey to both due to a lack of preparation.  The tree that is born into conflict and crisis is prepared from day one to understand the role of conflict and crisis, and then face both as friends and tools.  Thus the problems with leaders who choose to avoid conflict and why these leaders will flail, fail, and lead their teams and businesses into failure and ruination.

Avoid Workplace Conflict Through Better Collaboration ...Thompson (2008) calls those who actively work to avoid conflict as those taking “trips to Abilene;” included in those making trips to Abilene are those who take conflict personally and choose to become offended, as well as those who choose not to see conflict, as a method of ignoring conflict.  Thomas (1992) captured how individual choices about the valuation of conflict open or close the door to the productive use of conflict.  Ignoring conflict, avoiding conflict, and other strategies to avoid conflict form the most dangerous people to be around, for when conflict grows beyond a point where it can no longer be ignored or avoided, that is the conflict that can destroy people, places, and things.

Thomas (1992) is echoe in Jehn (1995), Lencioni (2002), and Thompson (2008) declaring the distinction between conflict as a process and the structure in which the conflict process occurred is critical to how beneficial the conflict will be for the team, business, or society.  Conflict is the mental thinking, adherence to operating procedures, and individuals working become the instigating factor, which is a threat to what is known or done at the current time.  Hence, Thomas (1992) provided a keen insight into conflict as a tool, purposeful initiation of a process (conflict) to improve a structure (organizational environment).Cheryl Richardson Quote: "If you avoid conflict to keep ...

When people recognize the power of conflict and purposefully employ conflict, everyone receives the potential to improve through conflict (Lencioni, 2002).  Thus, conflict continues to be a tool, nothing more and nothing less.  The disparities between organizational conflict labels are critical to understanding the chasm between teams evaluating conflict as the process and business structure. The gap in understanding conflict’s results can create inhibitions to future organizational conflict and create unneeded additional conflict processes while undermining the organizational structure.Conflict Quotes - Famous Disagreement Quotations & Sayings

How will you choose to use conflict?  Will you grow or fold?  Will you break yourself to become better knowing that the deadwood you cast off is healthier long term than holding onto the past and pretending you are still able to hold onto everything?  Will you keep an open wound instead of allowing time and healing to form a scar and a callous to protect you from additional injury?  Is the injury worth growing or is the injury too much and it is time to fall and die?  Conflict and crisis will define or defeat based solely upon the choices you make.  How will you decide?

References

Amason, A. C. (1996). Distinguishing the effects of functional and dysfunctional conflict on strategic decision making: Resolving a paradox for top management teams. Academy of Management Journal, 39(1), 123-148. doi:http://dx.doi.org.contentproxy.phoenix.edu/10.2307/256633

Baron, R. A. (1991). Positive Effects of Conflict: A Cognitive Perspective. Employee Responsibilities & Rights Journal, 4(1), 25-36.

Brazzel, M. (2003). Chapter XIII: Diversity conflict and diversity conflict management. In D. L. Plummer (Ed.), Handbook of diversity management: Beyond awareness to competency based learning (pp. 363-406). Lanham, MD: University Press of America, Inc.

Du, F., Erkens, D. H., & Xu, K. (2018). How trust in subordinates affects service quality: Evidence from a large property management firm. Business.Illinois.edu. Retrieved from https://business.illinois.edu/accountancy/wp-content/uploads/sites/12/2018/03/Managerial-Symposium-2018-Session-IV-Du-Erkens-and-Xu.pdf

Jehn, K. A. (1995). A multi-method exanimation of the benefits and detriments of intragroup conflict. Administrative Science Quarterly, 40, 256-282.

Lencioni, P. (2002). The five dysfunctions of a team: A leadership fable. Hoboken, NJ. John Wiley & Sons.

Lumineau, F., Eckerd, S., & Handley, S. (2015). Inter-organizational conflicts. Journal of Strategic Contracting and Negotiation, 1(1), 42-64. doi:10.1177/2055563614568493

McShane, S. L., & Von Gilnow, M. A. (2004). Organizational Behavior, Third Edition. Boston: McGraw-Hill Companies.

Moeller, C., & Kwantes, C. T. (2015). Too Much of a Good Thing? Emotional Intelligence and Interpersonal Conflict Behaviors. Journal of Social Psychology, 155(4), 314-324. doi:10.1080/00224545.2015.1007029

Rao, M. (2017). Tools and techniques to resolve organizational conflicts amicably. Industrial and Commercial Training, 49(2), 93-97. doi:10.1108/ict-05-2016-0030

Thomas, K. W. (1992). Conflict and conflict management: Reflections and update. Journal of Organizational Behavior, 13(3), 265-274.

Thompson, L. L. (2008). Chapter 8: Conflict in teams – Leveraging differences to create opportunity. In Making the team: A guide for managers (3rd ed., pp. 201-220). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice-Hall.

© Copyright 2021 – M. Dave Salisbury
The author holds no claims for the art used herein, the pictures were obtained in the public domain, and the intellectual property belongs to those who created the images.

Session Title:  Able, Not Disabled, Not Differently-Abled

Introduction:  The following are my notes delivered at a global conference for disability inclusion held 27 October 2021 regarding how to improve disability inclusion in the workplace.

Description:  Increasing abilities by removing boundaries, discussing paths forward in ability inclusion, and building upon the great work Amazon and several other companies have done in pioneering disability inclusion in the workplace.

Welcome to a discussion on abled, not disabled, not differently-abled!  I am glad you’re here!  I am Dr. Dave Salisbury; I look to complete my Ph.D. in industrial and organizational psychology by April 2022; if you would like to participate in my dissertation, don’t hesitate to contact me outside this forum for more information.  I possess an MBA in global management specializing in human resource management, a master’s in adult education design and training, and have been a business consultant since 2004.  I am a dual-service US Army/US Navy disabled veteran.

My intent today is to help break down barriers so we can be comfortable around each other.  So comfortable that we can share jokes about my disability, we can look past the twitches, the spasms, and the stutters and find common interests.  Disability inclusion is precisely this, the inclusion into society of those with disabilities to the point that we do not see the disability, we do not recognize the handicaps, and we can then work in an atmosphere of ability.

I have several disabilities, most stemming from injuries sustained in military service; some include my voice, some include neurological issues, others are physical and mental.  Regardless, as these injuries have increased in severity, my professional intent began to be recognized for my abilities, talents, skills, knowledge, and potential, not for my disabilities.  Yet, I am often seen only as a disabled person or worse, a “token” disabled person filling a slot that another person could be occupying.  I ran into this thinking in the Federal government, New Mexico State, Bernalillo County, and Albuquerque City government hiring practices as recently as 2019.

Earlier in my professional life as a disabled person, I was told not to be thinking of myself as disabled but as “differently-abled.”  I am not differently-abled!  Differently-abled draws lines and limitations; it separates people and places boxes on potential.  Worse, it allows for the continued breeding of an “us against them” mentality, which breeds hostility and counterproductive beliefs.  Thus, I refuse to be differently-abled.  I do not particularly appreciate being classified as disabled either.

Please allow me to digress for a moment.  The transitive verb “dis” means to show disrespect, insult, or criticize.  As a prefix, “dis” is defined as the opposite of something, depriving someone of something, excluding someone, or expelling someone.  Thus, a disabled person is either being disrespected, insulted, or criticized, deprived, excluded, expelled or is the opposite of able.  Frankly, I believe that when we are made aware of the etymology of words, we are then more aware of why people choose to adopt or not adopt certain words and labels.  I repeat, only for emphasis, I do NOT particularly appreciate being classified as disabled, for I AM able!

Words and labels should not be the focus of our attention and efforts.  I prefer handicapped to disabled based on the etymology, even though I don’t particularly appreciate being considered handicapped.  A handicap can refer to a disadvantage in task completion, physical or mental disabilities, and can intentionally place a person at a disadvantage; there’s that “dis” again rearing it’s disrespect, insults, criticism, deprivation, exclusion, and expulsion.  Please, let’s stop focusing on word games and plastic phrases; instead, let’s invest efforts in finding solutions to existing problems.

How big is the problem of word focus; in the past few weeks, there have been several email chains based solely on a person’s word choice preferences.  I would venture to presume that not a single person intended to cause insult or denigrate a community member by using or not using a specific word, phrase, title, verb, adjective, etc. in describing a person or population in the community.  Yet, people chose to take offense, and others rushed in to ameliorate the feelings of the one choosing to be offended at a word.  Bringing up a fundamental aspect in disability inclusion, individual responsibility, accountability, or self-rule.

I am able!  I take a little more time, need a couple of extra breaks, and use additional technology and equipment to complete tasks.  I possess skills, talents, experiences, and knowledge valuable to situations, teams, and companies.  I bring to the table unique perceptions, insights, and benchmarkable skills worthy of consideration.  I bring formal and informal education and experience that is invaluable and immeasurably useful as an asset to the organization.  I am all this long before we ever discuss my physical and mental concerns or disabilities.

My first priority is my personal safety and security; my first job is to look out for myself.  Monitor what I am carrying, how far I must take it, doors, elevators, paths for egression in emergencies, methods for being warned, and what I can and cannot do.  For example, as COVID-19 began, I knew I could not wear a mask and asked about those of us who could not wear a mask.  I saw the confusion on faces. I witnessed the policy shifts, the harassments, the legal segregations, and suffered legal abuse and discrimination for not wearing a mask.  I realize that eventually, my injuries will require my independence to be curtailed, and I will become more dependent.  As such, I have to monitor what I can and cannot do constantly and clearly describe this to those I work with.  The same should be true and expected of all people regardless of handicap or level of ability.  Individual responsibility for safety, security, and health does not end just because they enter a building and should be stressed as a regular aspect of workplace safety.

Amazon has performed incredible work and is one of the few companies that has done pioneering work leading to real success in disability inclusion on a global scale.  The question before us is where and how do we build upon this work to improve the culture and potential of all employees, regardless of ability, in all industries and businesses, based upon the pioneering work of Amazon.  I believe the following action items can be the building blocks to successfully enhance the inclusion of people of all abilities, talents, skills, and knowledge.  I will revisit these questions when we get to the discussion portion; please consider these points.

  1. Conflict is good, beneficial, and a tool that is useful for building people, teams, and businesses. Douglas Malloch wrote a timeless poem, “Good Timber,” which is the quintessential discussion on why and how conflict is good.  Let us embrace conflict as the tool it is for improving people.  A handout is available for further consideration on these topics, and all bullets discussed, with reference materials for additional research if you desire.  Please send me an email if you would like these materials.
  2. Leadership begins with followership; followership begins with being lifelong learners, learning requires opportunities to teach, teaching is a prerequisite to learning, and learning requires the ability to lead and apply. – These are merely starting points to understanding. They are facts.
        • Do we encourage delegation and learning through experience?
        • Do we embrace failure as a tool for lifelong learning?
        • Leadership is not a title; leadership is first an attitude, then an action, and finally a method of learning and teaching. How do we apply these truths in daily activities?
        • Leadership as an attitude is witnessed in good followership, even when our followers practice loyal opposition; are we embracing the loyal opposition? Do we know how to recognize the loyal opposition?
  3. Flexibility and agility require open minds. Open minds need varieties in opinions, politics, beliefs, religions, and so much more.  Open minds begin with lifelong learning!  Lifelong learning requires self-reflection. – Again, we find fundamental truths, simply explained and expounded.  How are we embracing these truths in daily practice?  What actions are we supporting in the workplace to showcase support to and openness to variety in thinking and commitment to lifelong learning?
        • What book did you just read?
        • Did you share that book, recommending it to whom?
        • Were you excited about the book?
        • When was the last time you self-reflected?
  4. Do you believe?
  5. How will you act tomorrow?

Are there activities I cannot engage in?  Yes.  To my disappointment and chagrin, there are many activities I can no longer engage in.  Stairs are a tremendous activity I have to avoid; yes, this includes sidewalk curbs.  Standing and sitting for long periods have to be monitored and curtailed.  Walking is another activity I have to be conscious of and monitor closely.  I regularly mistake how long I have sat or walked and wind up in trouble breathing, or my legs give out from exhaustion.  But, I should not have to get into some vast dramatic affair just because my abilities are curtailed physically or mentally.  COVID-19 hit, I cannot wear a mask due to breathing issues; the mask mandates have been so embarrassing and challenging while also being segregationist, separatist, and legally expensive.  Why are disabled people still challenged on their disabilities when we are already disrespected, insulted, criticized, deprived, excluded, and expelled for merely being less physically and mentally able?

Ask yourself this question, “When I see a maskless person, do I condemn them first or think maybe they have a reason?”  That single decision is the key to the choice between building people and building disability thinking!  I do not need your answer voiced; please consider your response now and think about when you will witness a maskless person the next time.

Has anyone taken a look at the processes for obtaining work accommodations?  A work adjustment for a disability?  A mask exemption?  With all the differences in abilities, one would think the process would be straightforward to understand.  Yet, the opposite is often the truth because we refuse to embrace that we are all able and are programmed to first separate into able and dis-(disrespected, insulted, criticized, deprived, excluded, expelled)- abled.

The last two questions are not included for any reason other than to spark a conversation inside you.  Do you believe in a difference existing between disabled people and non-disabled people?  What will you do differently today and tomorrow to reflect your belief structure?

I learned a long time ago everyone has a disability, a blind spot, an issue they keep hidden from the world.  Sometimes it is a missing eye, an arm, a leg, an embarrassing laugh, depression, anxiety, trauma, childhood abuse, adult abuse, the list is endless.  Yet, some of those “blind spots” are more severe and become listed as “disabilities.”  The government stepped in to classify people, draw lines of segregation and separation, which did a lot of harm to people of all abilities.  I met a man recently who lost several fingers and partially lost several other fingers.  His lost and partial fingers never came up in conversation.  His abilities as a typist were terrific, and his talents on several musical instruments were extraordinary, but his missing and partial fingers were non-topics!  As a point of fact, I did not notice the fingers until I shook his hand in congratulations for his accomplishments.

Drawing lines, classifications, separations, segregation, it never works.  Until we can look past, work past, and choose to live past the disability, we will never be equally able, and everyone suffers.  What keeps disabled people from being able; our choices.  What keeps able people from working together; our choices.  See the connection; how we choose is the single greatest determining factor in moving forward as an individual, a team, a group, and a company.  We choose to either be abled or disabled.  We choose to allow our comfort zone to define us or not to define us.  We choose to work together first or separate each other first.

Often a person lacking an ability due to misfortune of some kind will develop and magnify other abilities, an often-overlooked advantage to their value because seeing past their loss has become a lost art of possibility and consideration.  In other words, our humanity needs restoration.  Those who do not have a fulness of ability know the realities of unreasonable and unfair judgment rather than the realities of potential and are thus prevented from entering the world of abilities and possibilities by the much too often impenetrable establishment of discrimination.  We can lift people from where we are and change the paradigm of ability and advancement to a higher level of accomplishment and respect.  We can do this!  Do you believe?

How will we act tomorrow?  A similar question was posed by Brian “The Brain” Johnson in the movie “The Breakfast Club,” and new attitudes, new thinking, and new potential were born.  Are we willing to see past the outside wrapping, shun society’s labels, and choose a different path forward through action, learning, leadership, and healthy conflict?

Let’s discuss!

    • Conflict is good, beneficial, and a tool that is useful for building people, teams, and businesses. Douglas Malloch wrote a timeless poem, “Good Timber,” which is the quintessential discussion on why and how conflict is good.  Let us embrace conflict as the tool it is for improving people.  A handout is available for further consideration on this topic and all bullets discussed, with reference materials for additional research on these topics if you desire.
    • Leadership begins with followership; followership begins with being lifelong learners, learning requires opportunities to teach, teaching is a prerequisite to learning, and learning requires the ability to lead and apply. – These are merely starting points to understanding. They are facts.
            1. Do we encourage delegation and learning through experience?
            2. Do we embrace failure as a tool for lifelong learning?
            3. Leadership is not a title; leadership is first an attitude, then an action, and finally a method of learning and teaching. How do we apply these truths in daily activities?
            4. Leadership as an attitude is witnessed in good followership, even when our followers practice loyal opposition; are we embracing the loyal opposition? Do we know how to recognize the loyal opposition?
      • Flexibility and agility require open minds. Open minds need varieties in opinions, politics, beliefs, religions, and so much more.  Open minds begin with lifelong learning!  Lifelong learning requires self-reflection. – Again, we find fundamental truths, simply explained and expounded.  How are we embracing these truths in daily practice?  What actions are we supporting in the workplace to showcase support to and openness to variety in thinking and commitment to lifelong learning?
            1. What book did you just read?
            2. Did you share that book, recommending it to whom?
            3. Were you excited about the book?
            4. When was the last time you self-reflected?
      • Do you believe?
      • How will you act tomorrow?

Additional Questions, Comments, Concerns, feel free to reach out to me via email or chime.  Thank you!

© Copyright 2021 – M. Dave Salisbury
The author holds no claims for the art used herein, the pictures were obtained in the public domain, and the intellectual property belongs to those who created the images.

NO MORE BS: The Power and Blessing of Conflict

Douglas Malloch wrote a poem that has become famous.  More to the point, the poem “Good Timber” declares a natural law, “Conflict is Good!

Good TimberGood Timber
by Douglas Malloch

The tree that never had to fight
For sun and sky and air and light,
But stood out in the open plain
And always got its share of rain,
Never became a forest king
But lived and died a scrubby thing
.

The man who never had to toil
To gain and farm his patch of soil,
Who never had to win his share
Of sun and sky and light and air,
Never became a manly man
But lived and died as he began
.

Good timber does not grow with ease:
The stronger wind, the stronger trees;
The further sky, the greater length;
The more the storm, the more the strength.
By sun and cold, by rain and snow,
In trees and men good timbers grow
.

Where thickest lies the forest growth,
We find the patriarchs of both.
And they hold counsel with the stars
Whose broken branches show the scars
Of many winds and much of strife.
This is the common law of life
.

I learned to swim by being thrown into the deep end of a lake and told to get back to shore on my own.  The conflict made me understand and learn how to coordinate movement, and I learned to swim.  I learned how to fight by opening my big mouth and having someone bigger close my mouth for me.  I learned how to ride a bike by falling off.  As a process of learning and developing, conflict has been the driving factor in all of our lives.  But, as soon as a person is elected to public office, they seem to lose their minds and think conflict is always bad, to be avoided, and scared of due to the perceived consequences.

ToolsConflict is a tool, and like all tools, when used appropriately, it can build, enhance, strengthen, and create.  Whereas, if the tool is improperly used, destruction, damage, and chaos are spawned.  Conflict happens; what a person chooses to do with that conflict and how that person considers conflicting occurrences is how the labels “good,” “bad,” “valuable,” “beneficial,” etc., are applied.  McShane and Von Gilnow (2004, p. 390) postulated, “conflict as beneficial [when] intergroup conflict improves team dynamics, increase cohesiveness, and task orientation. … [C]onditions of moderate conflict, motivates team members to work more efficiently toward goals increasing productivity.”  The sentiment regarding conflict as a tool and beneficial is echoed throughout the research of Jehn (1995).  Jehn (1995) reflected that the groups researched labeled the conflict as beneficial, good, bad, etc. Based on the group’s dynamics and the conflicts faced and settled, the groups formed an integrated model for organizational conflict.  Essentially, how the conflict is approached and used by the team members individually and collectively dictates how beneficial the conflict is for the team and the organization.

Rao (2017) built upon previous researchers’ shoulders, perceiving conflict being a tool, and provided vital strategies for leaders to employ if they choose to minimize conflict.  Rao (2017) provided that conflict builds character, whereas crisis defines character” [p. 93].  Rao (2017) recognized that conflict labels are an individual choice.  In organizational conflict, one team could label the conflict as useful and beneficial while another department could label that same conflict as damaging and horrible.  When the conflict in an organization has disparate labels, understanding why conflict is disparately evaluated remains more important than changing the label.

moral-valuesThompson (2008) raised significant points regarding conflict, beginning with a real-life example of how conflict spurred organizational change and growth for the H. J. Heinz Co.  Thompson (2008) calls those who actively work to avoid conflict as those taking “trips to Abilene;” included in those making trips to Abilene are those who take conflict personally and choose to become offended, as well as those who choose to not see conflict as a method of ignoring conflict.  Thomas (1992) captured again how individual choices about the valuation of conflict opens or closes the door to the productive use of conflict.  Ignoring conflict, avoiding conflict, and other strategies of not facing conflict form the most dangerous people to be around, for when conflict grows beyond a point where it can no longer be ignored or avoided, that is the conflict that can destroy people, places, and things.

Thomas (1992) echoes Jehn (1995), Lencioni (2002), and Thompson (2008) in declaring the distinction between conflict as a process and the structure in which the conflict process occurred is critical to how beneficial the conflict will be for the team, business, or society.  Consider for a moment, the structure in the organizational environment.  Conflict is the mental thinking, adherence to operating procedures, and individuals working become the instigating factor, which is a threat to what is known or done at the current time.  Hence, Thomas (1992) provided a keen insight into conflict as a tool, purposeful initiation of a process (conflict) to improve a structure (organizational environment).

When people recognize the power of conflict and purposefully employ conflict, everyone receives the potential to improve through conflict (Lencioni, 2002).  Thus, conflict continues to be a tool, nothing more and nothing less.  The disparities between organizational conflict labels are critical to understanding the chasm between teams evaluating conflict as the process and business structure. The gap in understanding conflict’s results can create inhibitions to future organizational conflict, create unneeded additional conflict processes, all while undermining the organizational structure.

Andragogy - LEARNWhy does this matter?

The media keeps postulating that the slim margins between Republicans and Democrats in the US House of Representatives and Senate are bad, and chaos will reign in conflicting opinions. I’m afraid I have to disagree with the media and wanted a common understanding of conflict’s beneficial nature before expressing why conflict in the US House of Representatives and Senate is desirable.  From the earliest days of the Continental Congress, America has been born from meeting a shared understanding born from two extreme positions.  Early conflicts in American history led to the need for laws to stop dueling with guns and swords.

There are many valuable lessons to be learned from conflict critical to America’s future.  For example, had America had more conflict in the US Congress (Senate and House), we would have a budget and less debt.  Consider some of the detestable legislation pushed through at the end of 2020 and the 116th Congressional session.  With more conflicting ideas and opinions, building strong voices in dissent, those pieces of legislation would have been pushed onto a new Congress for remediation and reconciliation.

Mount RushmorePresident Lincoln is known as a great leader of America in crisis, a reputation justly earned!  Guess what, he had a very contentious Congress to face. Through the Congressional contention, conflict, and remediation and reconciliation processes, Congress had to learn to work together under the rule of law.  As a point of interest, all the presidents honored on Mount Rushmore had crisis, contention, and Congressional conflict to overcome and achieve American progress.  Why do we need more conflicting opinions, slimmer margins, and maybe a few more different and diverse political parties in America’s Congress, because they refuse to listen to the electorate!

I have seen Congressional bodies in several Democratic countries during my travels, and I keep watching how other countries’ Congressional bodies work and do not work.  Frankly, I would not mind seeing a fistfight or two break out in the US Congress as a way to shatter the current paradigm and get the legislative bodies working as they should, moving between two extreme points to find the best solution for the people who hired them.  People claim politics is a rough game; I say, bring on the conflict and make that job rougher in the hopes of improving performance!

References:
The references are included if you want to further research conflict as beneficial.

Amason, A. C. (1996). Distinguishing the effects of functional and dysfunctional conflict on strategic decision making: Resolving a paradox for top management teams. Academy of Management Journal, 39(1), 123-148. doi:http://dx.doi.org.contentproxy.phoenix.edu/10.2307/256633

Baron, R. A. (1991). Positive Effects of Conflict: A Cognitive Perspective. Employee Responsibilities & Rights Journal, 4(1), 25-36.

Brazzel, M. (2003). Chapter XIII: Diversity conflict and diversity conflict management. In D. L. Plummer (Ed.), Handbook of diversity management: Beyond awareness to competency based learning (pp. 363-406). Lanham, MD: University Press of America, Inc.

Du, F., Erkens, D. H., & Xu, K. (2018). How trust in subordinates affects service quality: Evidence from a large property management firm. Business.Illinois.edu. Retrieved from https://business.illinois.edu/accountancy/wp-content/uploads/sites/12/2018/03/Managerial-Symposium-2018-Session-IV-Du-Erkens-and-Xu.pdf

Jehn, K. A. (1995). A multi-method exanimation of the benefits and detriments of intragroup conflict. Administrative Science Quarterly, 40, 256-282.

Lencioni, P. (2002). The five dysfunctions of a team: A leadership fable. Hoboken, NJ. John Wiley & Sons. 

Lumineau, F., Eckerd, S., & Handley, S. (2015). Inter-organizational conflicts. Journal of Strategic Contracting and Negotiation, 1(1), 42-64. doi:10.1177/2055563614568493 

McShane, S. L., & Von Gilnow, M. A. (2004). Organizational Behavior, Third Edition. Boston: McGraw-Hill Companies.

Moeller, C., & Kwantes, C. T. (2015). Too Much of a Good Thing? Emotional Intelligence and Interpersonal Conflict Behaviors. Journal of Social Psychology, 155(4), 314-324. doi:10.1080/00224545.2015.1007029 

Rao, M. (2017). Tools and techniques to resolve organizational conflicts amicably. Industrial and Commercial Training, 49(2), 93-97. doi:10.1108/ict-05-2016-0030

Thomas, K. W. (1992). Conflict and conflict management: Reflections and update. Journal of Organizational Behavior, 13(3), 265-274.

Thompson, L. L. (2008). Chapter 8: Conflict in teams – Leveraging differences to create opportunity. In Making the team: A guide for managers (3rd ed., pp. 201-220). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice-Hall.

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