Debate Drives Better Decisions

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It can happen in an instant. You’re talking with a teammate, and without really thinking, you comment on something you like or dislike. To your surprise, the person you’re speaking with has a strong reaction to the comment. At first, they’re taken aback by what you said, maybe in shock. And then they’re angry. That anger quickly takes over and escalates, giving you no time to clarify or redirect. You’re now in conflict.

This type of conflict—let’s call it negative conflict—is a destructive force that strains relationships, erodes trust, and tears teams apart. Some estimates put the cost of this type of conflict in U.S. companies to be around $359 billion in lost time and productivity, an astounding figure that equates to about three hours a week per person.

While conflict is a state of antagonism, heightened competition, or struggle and is often seen as negative, there’s another type—let’s call it positive conflict. This type of conflict can drive breakthrough thinking, innovation, and growth. Positive conflict is the creative tension that leads teams to deliver far more and far better together than they could have individually.

While most people instinctively avoid conflict, Margaret Heffernan demonstrates in her TED Talk Dare To Disagree, that good disagreement is central to progress. She illustrates how the best partners aren’t echo chambers and how great research teams, relationships, and businesses allow people to disagree deeply.

This week, consider how you can avoid negative conflict and provoke —and sustain— positive conflict. Take a look at your Prism Portrait to recognize how dimensions of your personality could create or ease negative conflict. Then, think through how you might set up some interventions for yourself to start applying a trust-building process that leverages the strengths in your natural approach.

“For good ideas and true innovation, you need human interaction, conflict, argument, debate.”
— Margaret Heffernan

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