Nice Conflict: Critical skills for L&D (Part 1)

Through following Angela Maiers, I happened to see the most recent stream of the weekly #LeadershipChat, and the topic was drawn from the book “Have a Nice Conflict“,

As Lisa Petrilli notes in her summary, rather than being a source of frustration and loss to business, conflict has the potential to be a spark for change, innovation, new relationships, and shared understanding. Of course, this does require a significant change in mindset on both sides of the communication equation.

We’re all aware of conflict and it’s potential for damage to business. In fact, a recent stat thrown out in the chat was that conflict cost the US economy an estimated $395Bn per year (based on an average of 2.8 hours per week in some state of conflict. While some may argue that’s just the cost of doing business, big numbers like that are somewhat hard to ignore).

So what does this all mean for L&D professionals?

I will preface this post by saying that this is not a comprehensive book review or exploration of the parable contained within. This is my commentary based on the recent chat sponsored by the Authors.

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At its heart, conflict occurs when competing interests collide; and, as the authors note “when there is a threat to your sense of self-worth”. Conflict can be incidental, fleeting, or prolonged. I think it’s safe to say that we often find ourselves in conflict situations, whether we are trying to influence a reluctant stakeholder, draw information from a SME, or even dealing with a challenging learner in a face-to-face situation. What skills and techniques do we – and should we – have at our disposal to help manage these conflicts and turn them into opportunities, rather than obstacles? Perhaps we, too, accept these challenges as the “cost of doing our business”, but as we become more aware of the requirement to adapt and evolve our skills, this may be the time to reflect on how we handle situations.

The Authors of Nice Conflict define that concept as one that “gets the results you want while strengthening or improving the relationship”. While I agree in principle, where I think there’s room for adjustment is the question of who gets what results. One of the guiding considerations is that sense of “right”. Are you “right”? Is your opponent? Are you both right? Or could you both be wrong? So, this conflict might be an opportunity to critically re-examine your position. It is also an opportunity to get to the roots of the values of each party. Another issue raised by the authors is the danger of conflict avoidance. Anyone who has been in a significant personal relationship can attest to that. Avoidance leads to suppression, leads to increased tensions, and, well, you know where it can ultimately lead. So the L&D professional needs to accepts and embrace the potential for conflict and factor that in to any stakeholder/learner/SME conversation.

It is also important to make the distinction between opposition and conflict. Opposition, as the authors note, is something that can be negotiated and is simply a difference in stance, or opinion. Conflict is something more personal. It’s a challenge to values or self-worth, and it’s worth recalling Colin Powell’s words:

Never let your ego get so close to your position, so that when your position falls, your ego goes with it.

L&D professionals should reflect and examine where they are coming from in any exchange.  The challenge for us is that we have such deep, profound beliefs in what we do and how it should be done that it may prove difficult to separate that which we value from meeting learning requirements or client demands. The opportunity, however, is there for you to be able to explore and articulate those values with your “adversary” and try to get a sense of where their values align with yours.  If the basic values do align, then you have a starting point for getting to the root of the issue at hand.

In Part II, I hope to offer some practical guidance on relevant skills development for identifying, managing, and embracing conflict throughout the learning cycle.

As always, I welcome your comments on this (and any) post.


Posted on February 15, 2012, in blog, commentary, conflict, ideas, Instructional Design, opinion, PLN, reflection, thoughts. Bookmark the permalink. 3 Comments.

  1. Interesting post Mark. I agree that conflict can be good thing as long as both parties 1. do not tie their position to their self-worth and 2. do not harbor hidden agendas. Of course neither of these is likely to reveal itself readily and if one party suspects either of the two are playing a role – conflict could become a long-term grudge as heels are dug in. I look forward to your second post in the series!

    • You’re absolutely right in your assessment. The very nature of conflict as a personal stance means that the heart of the issue is buried under layers and layers of ego and personality. This is where I think we can have a direct impact on the process by taking the lead in the discussion/exchange. The best starting point, I think, is to ask the right kinds of questions to help remove the personal aspects and focus on the “opposition”.

  1. Pingback: Nice Conflict: Critical skills for L&D (Part 1) | DPG Online |

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