I have to be honest – there is nothing in me that spontaneously relates to the idea of conflict being healthy. Consequently, as I approached what Levi (2014) had to say about the “benefits” of conflict, I did so with some reservations.
These reservations have much to do with some of the past experiences I’ve encountered in group life. I can’t recall experiencing what I would consider “benefit” from the conflict in these situations. There were instances when team members stopped speaking to one another and there was a real threat that the team would not be able to complete the assignment due to the conflict. I remember just wanting the experience to be over and thinking that the best approach in the future would be to avoid conflict at any cost.
After reading the Levi (2014) chapter on managing conflict, I began to consider a different perspective. One might even say, I began to appreciate how the right approach to conflict could indeed be beneficial. Specifically, the reading points out the following benefits of conflict:
- It encourages the team to explore new approaches
- Motivates people to understand issues better
- Encourages new ideas
These words, in particular, really struck me, “In a dynamic team, conflict is a normal part of the team’s activity and is a healthy sign” (Levi, p. 126). Perhaps, conflict is not to be feared or dreaded after all, but rather embraced as a normal part of group life. Additionally, if handled appropriately, conflict can lead to better decision making and more efficient team work. This lesson was brought to life for me recently as I met with a group of physicians to finalize a scenario for team training. We met to outline each step in the scenario, as to what would happen with the patient and what action we wanted the learners to take in order to accomplish the goals for this particular training exercise. As the physicians discussed how their learners might respond to each development in the scenario, one physician commented that it might be good for the learners not to agree on a particular course of action at one point, perhaps, even to experience some conflict in their decision making, in order to thoroughly examine what was going on with the patient and consider the best treatment option. Specifically, the physician mentioned that if they all agreed on a particular course of action without questioning what they might be overlooking, they might do the wrong thing and potentially risk the welfare of the patient. There it was, right in front of me – a perfect example of the benefit of conflict in group life. As the Abilene Paradox illustrates, agreement among group members may seem the path of least resistance, but it is a path that ultimately may lead in the wrong direction.
In summary, the” take aways” from this reading for me are:
- Conflict is a natural occurrence in group life
- Conflict may have a positive or negative impact on group life, depending on how it is approached
- Appropriate management of conflict will benefit teamwork
So it seems that conflict can indeed be healthy, after all!
Levi, D. (2014) Group Dynamics for Teams, Los Angeles, SAGE Publications.