What’s so bad about conflict?

Recently, I was speaking with a couple of colleagues and one of them half-jokingly mentioned, “You love conflict!” I think that to some degree this comment came from my penchant from asking probing questions in my meetings with faculty and staff.

When I ask questions during meetings, I try to make them probing and seek deeper meaning. I am seeking to find out a person’s deeper intention and core beliefs. I think what often bothers some of my faculty and staff members is that I am exploring why we do the things we do.

When a leader starts to question the status quo, feelings of tension and conflict can arise among the group. But, not all conflict is bad.

Think about peanut butter and jelly, the conflict of salty and sweet is a joy for many. If PB&J isn’t your thing what about French Fries and Ketchup? How about Balsamic Vinegar and Extra Virgin Olive Oil in a salad?

Some people love sports. Why? Because of the conflict and tension. Think about two soccer teams on the pitch, or football teams battling it out. Tennis, baseball, and basketball all are about the conflict of two opposing forces.

One does not have to go far when examining the arts and how conflict plays an important role in discovering deeper meaning. Classical music, jazz, rock and pop music all use conflict, either in lyrics, meter or key signatures, to help create tension and release to create a deeper meaning for the listener.

Painters and other artists use conflict as a medium to engage viewers in order to make meaning from their visual art. Novelist and poets use conflict to create tension and develop story arcs in order to draw the reader in. Television and movies use story arcs for the same reason.

The idea of conflict can have negative connotations because people often see it as unpleasant. However, respectful candor during courageous conversations and using strategic conflict is a powerful tool to change practices which are no longer effective.

Sometimes asking questions in which you already know the answers is important so that others may derive deeper meaning on their own rather than being told the better course of action. Effective teachers use this strategy in the classroom with their students. After all, there is little value in providing students the answers when the learning can be more meaningful and permanent when they arrive at the conclusion themselves.

I think the most vital part of using conflict effectively is to provide a safe environment where people feel safe to share their opinions. Part of my role as a school leader is to create the conditions wherein faculty and staff feel safe to have courageous conversations. In this way, I can continue to have a growth mindset conversations with my faculty.

How do you create a safe environment within your school. classroom or organization?

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