Many people are very fond of taking things at face value. In the contexts of expert organizations many are focused on the factual dimensions of their tasks. Dealing with any social aspects of cooperation and collaboration is straining and challenging for experts.
People taking things personally as soon as some conflict peeks around the corner are a big challenge for leaders.
From a leadership perspective it is much more useful to have a broader concept of conflict and to develop a positive, even welcoming attitude towards it. This requires considerable and sustainable change in the leadership and organizational culture.
We recently had a leadership workshop with such an expert organization wanting to change its leadership culture from a traditional top down authoritarian leadership style to a more participatory and empowering leadership style. Then the question came up: What do people in the organization understand when they hear the word conflict? Many associate it with something negative and with something personal.
Yet, conflicts are often not what they seem to be. They cannot easily be taken at face value. In conflict avoiding contexts, people often agree with each other too quickly not recognizing that in fact they only found an apparent consensus. The covered dissensus comes up later when actions don’t abide. But people also often disagree too early, going on in a blind dissensus, not realizing that in fact they may not be so much apart, if they only found out what was behind an apparent opposition.
So, as a spontaneous response to our discussion, I shared a Sufi wisdom by Idries Shah:
The Unsuspected Element
Two men were quarreling outside of Nasrudin’s window at dead of night. Nasrudin got up, wrapped his only blanket around himself, and ran out to try to stop the noise. When he tried to reason with the drunks, one snatched his woolen and both ran away.
“What were they arguing about?”, asked his wife when he went in. “It must have been the blanket. When they got that the fight broke up.”
What ideas do you have about helping others to learn that conflicts cannot easily be taken at face value?