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NO OBLIQUE-SPEAK: Part III – Conflict and the Art of Relationships

“The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place.”

– Bernard Shaw


What follows is Part III of a four-part essay on corporate communication. While the basic information has universal application, the focus is on the communication concerns of  fast-paced, early stage, entrepreneurial and intrapreneuial ventures.

Position Statement

Business (life) means building and maintaining relationships.

 “Conflict is the gadfly of thought. It stirs us to observation and memory. It instigates to invention. It shocks us out of sheep-like passivity…”

– John Dewy

Conflict as an Asset

When most people think of conflict, the following words and conditions come to mind:

fight lose
anger control
pain hate
war loss
impasse bad
destruction wrongdoing
fear confrontation
mistake avoid

Well, contrary to what you may have heard or thought, conflict is good, yes, good.

Irritation produces pearls and without disruption there is no innovation. However—and this is a very important “however”…minus integrity, constructed on blocks of honorable intention, a secure-accept-respect (SAR) culture, and considered thought, conflict destroys.

So, as you can see, at the workplace, we are talking about a very fine line that separates productivity and empowerment from chaos and suppression. This condition defines the classic approach-avoidance dilemma. As a manager do I allow and encourage differences of opinion, open discussion, healthy skepticism and exploration? Or, do I run a strict top-down organization where “I dictate…You follow” is both motto and practice?

The sad fact is that many, if not most, organizations wave a banner that shouts collaboration and invites input while placing an ever-stronger chokehold on constructive opposition and disagreement. Instead of viewing conflict as opportunity, a closed-minded autocrat views conflict as a threat and either avoids or stomps it out, quickly. What a shame.

By the way, yes, there are times when leadership must make tough decisions and point the way, despite opposing views—even if those views are of the majority. That’s why thrones are built for one person. Fine. Good. I’m all for it. But if leadership falsely advertises a management style that embraces honest input and open discussion only to punish those who present cross-aisle views, shame on them. Not only is this deception immoral (call it what it is) it wastes time and hurts the company in the long run. High-integrity conflict is good.

Traditional Approaches to conflict


  • Once bullying, dominance, and manipulations are used, it is difficult to view the person’s power in any other way.
  • Relationship suffers because the dominated person is reluctant to use innate talents and acquired skills.
  • Passive/aggressive actions eventually spring from the subverted individual.


  • Mistakenly suggests that all conflict is bad (see above).
  • Denies opportunities to clarify positions and clear up potential misunderstandings.
  • Implies acceptance of behavior thus enabling the individual to continue on a potentially dangerous or disruptive path.


  • Creates an illusion of permanence.
  • Avoids the core work of resolution and establishes a set behavioral approach to conflict.
  • The “quick-fixer” is reinforced for putting out the fire but the embers continue to burn—creating a culture of crisis management. (BTW, if you have someone on your team who is great at putting out fires, check their desk drawers for matches…).

Role Player

  • Rigid role assignments foster myopic solutions centered on power.
  • Subordinate member of relationship hesitates to contribute beyond his/her assigned role.
  • Can create an on-going adversarial relationship.


  • Often focus is on numbers and objects instead of personal value.
  • Can develop into a carry-over adversarial relationship based on “winning” and “losing.”
  • Stronger or more articulate negotiator wins not on merit and value but verbal skills—can damage relationship in the long-term. 

A New View of Conflict

Instead of always…

A disruption, negative experience, error, or mistake


An outgrowth of diversity leading to mutual growth and improved friendship

Instead of always…

An all-consuming battle of self-interests or desires


A reflection of one or two aspects of a total relationship

Instead of always…

An isolated event we use to define the entire relationship


An opportunity for clarification in a long-term relationship

A Partnership Process

Conflict enhancement and relationship building requires that you focus on needs, perceptions, power, values and principles, feelings and emotions, and internal conflicts.

  • WE not I vs. you…
  • Conflicts must be considered in context.
  • Honest discussion of disagreements strengthens relationships but BOTH parties must participate.

Ten Steps to Conflict Enhancement and Relationship Building: A Formula

  1. Look to the Future and Learn from the Past
  2. Generate Options
  3. Develop Realistic Stepping Stones to Action
  4. Make Mutual-Benefit Agreements
  5. Celebrate Diversity
  6. Crate an Effective Atmosphere (SAR management)
  7. Clarify Perceptions
  8. Focus on Individual and Shared Needs
  9. Build Shared Positive Power

Keep in mind the fact that how we understand conflict influences how we develop and maintain relationships. Recognize and celebrate the fact that honorable conflict is an outgrowth of diversity and differences. Both productive and destructive conflicts involve emotions, values, and principles as much as needs and desires and that …

how well you  handle your internal personal conflicts will often direct how well you develop and maintain relationships.

Coming Up…

Part IV:  Summary (So What?)

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