Creative Conflict?

The two words do not seem to go together, do they? Creativity might be defined as the ability to make something come into existence that did not previously exist. It often refers to artistic endeavors, such as painting, acting, or music.

We do not often think of our daily lives as creative. Many people do not think they are particuarly creative.

In reality, we are all creative to varying degrees and much of our creativity is well within our individual control, if we choose to exercise that control. Creativity is generally viewed as a good thing.

Conflict brings to mind, at least to many, hard times when people disagree vehemently about an issue or an event. Images of physical or emotional violence seem to appear, along with the sound of angry voices loudly disagreeing with fervor and passion.

Chairs flying, angry voices clashing, and no visible work being done for the good of the organization. Not the scene most of us hope to see our our weekly staff meetings. Conflict has a bad rap.

The reality: creativity and conflict are both essential for progress and true collaboration. Without the dynamic energy that comes from engagement, thoughtfulness, and discussion, we stagnant.

It takes little or no energy to work with others when we all agree. However, the work is easier because it is usually less valuable. While getting everyone on board is often touted as a goal of work teams, when the goal becomes to get everyone to agree, rather than to achieve or create, we have problems.

One way to approach this is to consider the difference between problems and issues. I like to describe it thusly:

A problem is something we can all agree needs to be fixed or achieved. For example, few would probably disagree that we need to strengthen our economy. An issue is an action or solution to the problem that knowledgeable people will not always agree is best. For example, some people feel that the economy will grow when government gets the heck out of the way and others feel that government actions are the key to growth.

So how do we engage in peaceful conflict to resolve problems and not get caught up in fighting over issues? I am no fan of Ronald Reagan, but he happens to have made a thoughtful observation about all this:

“Peace is not absence of conflict, it is the ability to handle conflict by peaceful means.”
~ Ronald Reagan

Here are some suggestions for how we might do this:

  • Clearly define the problem and insure that most people involved do want to resolve it - We can disagree about how to do something and engage in conflict to resolve the differences between how we need to solve a problem. If we are arguing about whether something is a problem or not, then we have a much higher possibility of unproductive conflict. When the problem is not clearly defined and accepted, everyone goes to their corners and squares off with a goal of defending their position. This appears to be the case with hot button issues like gay rights, law enforcement actions, and the other topics creating much debate across our screens and news feeds
  • Acknowledge that some people will champion different ways to resolve the problem. - This does not make them enemies of mine, insincere, or less than intelligent. When I can consider a different approach than the one I prefer and see why someone else might choose that approach, I am beginning to understand their viewpoint. This usually leads to a kinder, gentler discussion
  • By constantly and consistently refocusing on the problem as the important thing. - Each viewpoint can be considered and evaluated based on one deceptively simple question: “How well does this address the Problem?” Not whether you agree with it or not and not how it fits your personal values, but how well this approach works to resolve the situation about which we are all concerned
  • By keeping it classy - This one can be difficult given the partisan nature of politics, the competitive nature of business, and the deeply personal nature of our religious and moral beliefs. All the more reason to make it a priority. Being classy simply means avoiding namecalling, snide remarks, inattention/non-active listening, and other behaviors that communicate lack of respect for another's thoughts and beliefs.