Fostering Conflict..

I started 2012 with a new job, saying goodbye to my life as a self-employed consultant. I liked working without ‘a boss’, on the other hand I did miss the feeling of seeing things through to the very end (as if that even exists), so I made the jump.

Man with a mission
But not without my mission to alter the face of marketing from a ‘goods logic, campaign driven, transaction and volume focused department’ to a ‘Customer (job/journey) driven and service experience focused holistic approach’ aimed at maximizing the co-creation of value. A mission I have far from completed, but have learned a lot from trying so far.

Sharing what’s difficult
Of course I could share with you my key learnings, but I feel we all learn more if I’d share with you my key struggles. The stuff that I find hard to get done or feel is in my way. For that’s the stuff ultimately holding me from completing my mission. Depending on how this post resonates I’m considering sharing more over the course of 2013.

Struggling with disagreement
I work with(in) a wonderful group of highly diverse, skilled and intelligent (senior) professionals and (team)managers. The (corporate) culture is one of alignment and avoidance of conflict which results in people having a hard time with disagreement. Be it disagreement in their own teams, disagreement with me, disagreement with other teams or me disagreeing with them..

The importance of conflict
I think disagreement and conflict are important ingredients when cooking new solutions to the challenges we face. And of course it is also important to get alignment and a shared view, but not too early in the process. I need the disagreement to ensure all angles of the discussion come to the table for it will result in better decisions.

Dosing conflict
Yet, I have to admit, I struggle with dosing disagreement. Usually we come to agreement, but at one point this year I had a strong disagreement with some people over next steps based on an analysis of a marketing program. I knew I was not going to convince them of my point of view (quit the program immediately) and I explained to them I was not going to support their point of view in the management team (which I’m part of and for whom we were preparing the decision). Instead I invited them to defend their own case with my colleagues individually prior to the management team meeting and that I would inform my colleagues accordingly. I told my colleagues my team and I agreed to disagree and that we liked them to hear both points of view. And so we did.

Some of my colleagues in the management team also though it was strange that I submitted an analysis and proposed next steps I myself did not support, but it wasn’t a big issue. We focused on the merits of the analysis and had a fruitful discussion.

The management team decided upon a compromise, I can very well live with, effectively quiting the program within 6 months, but that’s not the point of this post.

Feelings of insecurity
Afterwards I sat down with my team and some were obviously happy with the new ‘agreement to be able to disagree’. Others said they now feel more insecure since they do not feel supported (by me) or taken seriously. This is a down-side I did not expect and I’m also not so sure how big of a down-side it is. After some discussions we agreed to let it rest and bring it up again when a case presented itself. So far non has, but I am sure there will be.

How do you think I should deal with it then? Exactly how important is (dis)agreement to you when preparing decisions? When is it too much?

5 thoughts on “Fostering Conflict..

  1. Hi Wim

    Another interesting post. And on a topic that touches us all continuously throughout our lives. Namely, how to get people to agree to do something that they disagree with in one way or another.

    Part of the problem of overcoming disagreement, or of agreeing to disagree and finding a compromise, is understanding why people disagree in the first place. One tool you might find interesting to use is Jonathan Haidt’s Moral Foundations Theory described in his book The Righteous Mind. The theory looks at six pairs of competing moral foundations:

    Care vs Harm

    Liberty vs Oppression

    Fairness vs Cheating

    Loyalty vs Betrayal

    Authority vs Subversion

    Sanctity vs Degradation.

    Each of the moral foundations evolved to enable us to creat more cohesive groups that reduced selfishness, punish free-riders and to reap the significant collective benefits of better within-group cooperation.

    Haidt has used the theory to look at what motivates different political groups in the USA and to see why they have become so polarised over time. As Haidt says, ‘morals both bind and blind’!

    Looking at your problem and armed with a little prior knowledge it seems to me that you are quite open to new ideas, care about those who would be affected by them (particularly customers outside your Co) and are not wedded to traditional ways of doing things in your Co. Some of your colleagues may be less open to new ideas, don’t care so much about those who would be affected by them and are quite keen to preserve the status quo. This places you in a difficult position being both the new boy on the block and the person with the weakest network of morally aligned supporters.

    Perhaps one way to make progress is to try to understand the underlying moral motivations of your colleagues who disagree and then to use the insights generated to both change your message and if necessary change your proposal, so that your colleagues can find more to agree with.

    Good luck.



    • Thx Graham :)

      I will read Haidt’s for sure. Looks insightful.

      And you’re right in your assessment that, as an “outsider”, I’m less attached to the current way of doing things, making it easier for me to support change. On top of that I also think I feel more confident in taking an experimental (real-options maybe) approach to finding new ways of working, adapting ourselves based on our findings from practice.

      I also think it’s a good thing others may not be so open to new approaches and throwing away current practices. Even if they are not working so well anymore. This makes me work harder on convincing others, effectively thinking through multiple alternatives better, etc etc.. In the end this results in better decision making.. Better decision making than would been without the conflict..

      Oh.. and yes it helps to understand ones motivations (we used ‘real drives’ in our team: and using these insights to find ways of getting them on-board. Although I think these insights are better used when forming sub-teams if you need complementary capabilities and viewpoints to solve a problem..

      Thx again! & have a great Sylvester.



  2. Hi Maz,

    Thx for the elaborate comment and I totally agree with what you’re saying. I will review your suggestions. For convenience of other visitors, here are some links:

    1. Peter Block:
    2. Marshall Rosenberg:

    I would also appreciate a link to work on “breakdowns”. Sounds like something I would like to either apply or recognize ;)

    Thx again for your support! And wishing you all the best for 2013 :)



    • Hello Win

      To get to grips with ‘breakdowns’ I suggest that you study the philosophy of Martin Heidegger – in particular his magnum opus Being and Time. Yet, that is truly difficult.

      So I suggest only going into this if you really are keen. And if so then I suggest that you go to iTunes and download philosophy 185 from UC Berkeley. There you will find Herbert Dreyfus sharing/explaining Heideggeran themes. If you listen to the first four or so lectures you should get “breakdowns”: it is when the “ready to hand” mode of being is disrupted and the transparent hammer loses it’s transparency.

      Further, you might want to check out the concept of “anxiety”, “dread”, “world collapse” in existentialist literature. A good short easy to understand book is Rollo May’s The Discovery of Being. A warning: existentialist literature is neither easy to read nor easy to be with. It confronts us and gets us present to what is so about the being of human beings.

      I wish you the very best for 2013. And I thank you for your support.

      At your service and with my love


  3. Hello Wim

    Disagreement is a one form of breakdown. Breakdown is that which arrests our taken for granted automatic way of being and doing in the world. Breakdown is that which confronts us, wakes us up, and confronts us with the challenge of a) examining our taken for granted practices; and b) coming up with better/different ways of dealing with the world. Put differently, breakdowns are the access to disclosing and creating new worlds.

    What comes with breakdowns? Some people are comfortable with breakdowns as they have experienced them and come through them safely – many times. So they do not view breakdowns as the that which threatens the loss of their ‘world’. For other people, breakdowns occur as fundamental tear in the fabric of their world. A threat to their existence – their way of being/showing up in the world. And as such these people react badly: annoyance, frustration and anger. Where anger cannot be expressed honestly it comes through as withdrawal, distance and passive aggression.

    My son and I had this very thing show up this week. We had plans and in the midst of our plans the electricity died. I was calm as I had experienced this many times. My son was disturbed, anxious, upset. When I noticed this I simply told him to light the candles. Which he did. Once there was light in the room we calmed down. When he calmed down I told him that the electricity would come back soon – it had done so many times before. I also told him to go and look outside. Sure enough the electricity to the other houses had been cut too. Now he did not feel alone. Which helped him calm down even more. Then he got busy finding and lighting more candles. Soon it was a game and when the electricity did come back he was kind of disappointed.

    How to deal with the insecurity that comes with conflict? There is no recipe, no magic potion. The key is to live the question “How can we disagree with one another in the context of working as a team committed to one another and our mission?”. And in living the question creating a environment that invites people to join you in a ongoing conversation around this question. Check out Peter Block’s work on/around community and conversations for transformation. He sets out a great method. I also suggest that you check out Marshall Rosenberg’s work on Non-Violent Communication. He sets out an easy method that works and the heart of his approach is how to deal effectively with conflict such that the needs of all parties are met.

    I wish you the very best and I acknowledge your courage, your stand. Why? Because I get that it really takes something – courage, commitment to a stand – to show up in the world as you show up in the world.



Comments are closed.