Let's show up to life. Let's prove how beautiful it can really be. Let's face the conflict, redeem it, conquer it, and allow it to mold our character. Let's participate in what God is doing in the world.  - Donald Miller

While so many people are fearful of conflict, it’s undeniable that leaders, teams, and organizations are more successful when there is a healthy debate over ideas and decisions. Many times conflict is avoided in an attempt to preserve relationships, but avoiding conflict actually has the opposite impact on relationships. Patrick Lencioni writes in The Five Dysfunctions of a Team that, “All great relationships, the ones that last over time, require productive conflict in order to grow. This is true in marriage, parenthood, friendship, and certainly business.” 

The Cost Of Avoiding Conflict

Lencioni covers many of the benefits of healthy conflict in his At The Table podcast, "The Upside of Conflict." In this podcast, he says that there is a huge cost in avoiding conflict. He points out that most companies do not have enough conflict which leads to poor decisions, lack of innovation, less “buy in” from team members, and ultimately less meaningful relationships.

The most innovative and successful organizations in the world embrace vigorous debate around ideas and decisions. A team of writers with Harvard Business Review wrote about this in their book, Collective Genius: The Art and Practice of Leading Innovation

“Innovation usually emerges when diverse people collaborate to generate a wide-ranging portfolio of ideas, which they then refine and even evolve into new ideas through give-and-take and often-heated debates. Thus collaboration should involve passionate disagreement. Yet the friction of clashing ideas may be hard to bear. It can create tension and stress—particularly in groups of talented, energetic individuals who may feel as if there are “too many cooks in the kitchen"...Often organizations try to discourage or minimize differences, but that only stifles the free flow of ideas and rich discussion that innovation needs. Leaders must manage this tension to create an environment supportive enough that people are willing to share their genius, but confrontational enough to improve ideas and spark new thinking.” 

Many organizations talk about the need for diversity and inclusion these days, but if they don’t create an environment where debate and ideas thrive, their diversity and inclusion efforts will also fail. 

Trust Is Essential 

Trust is paramount to healthy conflict. The leader of the organization or family needs to create a culture where all members are open to diverse ideas and do not take feedback and criticism of ideas personally. To do this, team members need to be coached on how to make suggestions and give feedback without any personal attacks or judgment. Lencioni points out in the podcast mentioned above that most humans are prone to what is called the fundamental attribution error--where we judge other people's intent and character when they make a mistake, but when we make a mistake we tend to blame our circumstances. In order to have good conflict, all team members need to suspend judgment and instead debate the idea or decision based on its benefits to the family, organization, and the world. 

God’s Word Shows Us The Way 

Whether we are in the corporate boardroom, a committee meeting, or discussing an important matter with a family member; God’s word teaches us to engage conflict in love. Donald Miller says it this way, “One of the things I love about our source text as Christians, the Bible, is that it teaches us not to avoid conflict. And it teaches us that before the fall of man, in Paradise, there was conflict. God wants conflict to be a part of your life.” Think about it, what might have happened if Adam would have pushed back against the serpent and Eve and not gone along with eating the forbidden fruit? Now, before we judge Adam too harshly, let’s realize we fail every day when given the chance to reject evil and present ideas for the good of others and the glory of God. 

For though we live in the world, we do not wage war as the world does. The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds. We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ. (2 Corinthians 10:3-6)

To hold every thought obedient to Christ means we consider what is honoring to God, and loving to others, as we consider ideas and decisions at our workplace and in our homes.

Here are five ways to engage conflict in love:

  1. Do not be timid with your ideas and feedback. "For the Spirit God gave us does not make us timid, but gives us power, love and self-discipline" (1 Timothy 1:7).
  2. Listen fully to the ideas and rational of others. "My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry" (James 1:19).
  3. Consider the facts and specifics of the idea or decision and not the motives of others before giving feedback. “Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you” (Matthew 7:1-2).
  4. All ideas and feedback should be for the good of others. "No one should seek their own good, but the good of others" (Corinthians 10:24).
  5. Test your ideas and feedback against God’s Word. “Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is —his good, pleasing and perfect will" (Romans 12:2).
Many times conflict is avoided in an attempt to preserve relationships, but avoiding conflict actually has the opposite impact on relationships.
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