On the Merits of Conflict...and Trust

I've been branching out lately.  Doing more corporate facilitation than has been my thing for a while.  It is a different lens with which to view the world vs the predominantly 1:1 client work that has been my mainstay for the last few years.   It is has been instructive in so many ways, not least to remind me how much more people are willing to disclose in the privacy of a 1:1 setting (unsurprisingly) than in groups.  The information, in privacy, isn't always 'pretty,' but it almost always rings true.   And for this I am grateful.  Conflict in the consulting room has ushered in far more mutual understanding and connection between me and clients than the more 'pleasant' sessions.  By contrast, sometimes I feel a group holding back, leaving important points unspoken.  A theme that keeps re-emerging in both group and 1:1 realms is the direct link between conflict and trust.  This is a natural tension that, it seems to me, is worth pondering...

The groups I have been working with lately almost ALL voice an aversion to conflict.  Don't want to rock the boat.  Prefer to be seen as a 'team player.'  To be 'nice.'  To which I introduce another distinction:  the difference between 'nice' (very conciliatory, ignoring or 'papering over' dissent...) vs 'kind' (acting in a way we believe will actually help most, even if it introduces aforementioned conflict).  As I've often heard said, 'kindness is rooted in love, niceness is rooted in fear.' 

In the many firms I've worked for (so no fingers pointed here!), the ones who think they are the 'best for people' are often times far from it.  Because they confuse the difference between nice and kind.  Smoothing over and keeping the calm vs being real.  Relaxed appearances hide mounting tensions beneath the surface.  The important conversations happen on the side, rather than in the open.  No one fully understands where they stand which creates considerable anxiety.  An anxiety that only further encourages people to stay quiet (if you're not feeling safe, you're not definitely not taking risks).  

Here is where the 1:1 and couples work I do actually informs what I tell groups (and the research supports me here):  The best relationships aren't without conflict.  By contrast, they are full of it.  They wrestle with difficult questions and don't always agree.  But all parties have a considered say.  They trust that they are valued as individuals, and that they are in something that strives for the greater good of the group rather than needing to hunker down, focused on self-protection and preservation.   The relationships that are dead in all but formality are the opposite:  They have played 'nice' for too long and the concealed resentments have solidified, leaving little room for renewed connection.  After too long avoiding inevitable conflict, it erupts in a mammoth struggle of who's right vs who's wrong, the camps divided. 

In the midst of all this pondering, a coach friend was nodding along while we talked, and then asked 'Have you read The Five Dysfunctions of a Team by Patick Lencioni?' I hadn't, but did the initial research I do before ordering a new book and listened to a talk by the author and it completely resonated.  It's worth a listen.

The model is common sense but insightful.  In the way that many of the truly great ideas are.  Punchline:  We don't have enough (constructive) conflict, because we don't have the precursor of trust.  Without trust we are lost in the water.  Fostering trust has been the mainstay of my 1:1 work as a psychotherapist and coach these past years....I'm now working on how to extend this to the corporate realm...are you with me? Thoughts?

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YouTube talk on the 5 Dysfunctions https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=w42Sfbh91vU