Healthy conflict, or what I refer to as creative friction, is characterized by 1) clear, candid dialogue and 2) robust, open debate. Lora and I engage in healthy conflict every day in our work together. I would even say we luxuriate in it. We leverage it and use it to our advantage.
To wit, today we were talking about an approach for a client. I questioned, "Why did you leave that out? It's foundational and is our secret sauce."
She said, "Oh, good catch. I didn't mean to. I grabbed the wrong copy."
As we further discussed the approach -- now with all its necessary components, we realized there's actually another critical piece. That realization was like a eureka moment. The thing that it needed to be was now so clear. It turned a solid plan into an amazing solution.
To wrap up our conversation, I summarized the critical piece by concluding, "And the output is thus and so."
She said, "No, it's not. Why do you think it is?"
I said, "Because thus and so leads to doohickey. Why don't you think thus and so leads to doohickey?"
She said, "Because doohickey requires doo and hickey. And thus and so doesn't do that."
And I said, "Oh, you're right! I misspoke! I see why you thought that. Yes, we want doo and hickey. That was the way I was thinking about it, but that's not what I said. Your way is the better way to describe it."
She said, "Alrighty then. I also agree. I think we got it!" And we do. We have something amazing.
You'll notice we aren't condescending in our interactions. We don't say mean things to intentionally try to hurt each other. When faced with disagreement, we don't dig in our heels and defend our positions. We use the objection to circle back, restate from a different point of view, confirm definitions, clarify, and ask questions.
Creative friction leads to better outcomes because everything is out on the table. There is no confusion or misunderstanding. Nothing is left unsaid. And it's easy for everyone to agree on the way forward. Even on the occasion when I don't get "my way," at least I've had my say. And I'm good with that.
The opposite of healthy conflict/creative friction is artificial harmony characterized by extreme politeness, which verges on ruinous empathy that slides easily into passive aggression and toxic positivity.
Strive to cultivate creative friction on your teams. If you don't know how to do that, you are not alone. It seems like healthy conflict is the biggest obstacle for the teams we consult with to overcome. It can be done!
If you don't know how to leverage creative friction on your teams or even where to start, ask us. We can help. It's what we do. Applegate Talent Strategies consults with organizations and teams on how to nurture healthy conflict.
And we practice it on our own team every day!