Healthy Leaders


Get In The Ring: Embracing Healthy Conflict In Your Team

Gerhard DuvenhageGerhard Duvenhage

As Patrick Lencioni said in his book The 5 Dysfunctions of a Team, “fear of conflict” is one of the things that can cripple a team.

I used to avoid conflict because it made me feel uncomfortable. Over the last few years I have chosen to embrace it and have seen how it could be one the biggest blessings for a team.

An example of addressing conflict is seen in the early church (Acts 15:1-5). After Paul’s first missionary journey, while he stayed in Antioch for a while – some men came and preached a message contrary to the one he was preaching. He was shocked and it resulted in a “sharp dispute.” When the issue could not be resolved, he travelled all the way to Jerusalem to tackle the root of the problem. The issue was resolved and it ended in many other issues being addressed.

The main point is that conflict is good, normal and necessary for a team to grow.

We need to learn how to fight fair, but the reality is that some of us always avoid the fighting ring… or sit in the stands and pretend there is no ring at all.

So, for all our leaders out there….

We need to be READY to get in the ring.

Paul did not ignore, bypass or run away from it. He took it head-on, but did not insist on being “right” in the conflict with the men in Antioch. Rather, he went to attack the source – to tackle the issue, not the people. Conflict is inevitable and will occur in any relationship or team. We need to expect it, even anticipate it. If there is no conflict, one of you is not being honest. We are all different, so there will be differences.

We need to be WILLING to get into the ring.

Paul called for time-out. He left what he was doing and travelled long distances to resolve this issue. Handling conflict needs to be a high priority – it takes time and effort. We need to be quick and not let it linger … bitterness, division can easily creep in.

Paul said to the Ephesians: “In your anger do not sin. Do not let the sun go down while you are angry. Do not give the devil a foothold” (Eph. 4:26-27).

As a side note, their issue was significant. We need to not sweat the small stuff and major on the majors!

We need to be HAPPY to get into the ring.

Paul knew the value of getting in the ring: growth, increased effectiveness and the peace it could bring. He also knew what lack of conflict could do: bring division, compromise the true message of the Gospel, etc. For a team to thrive, conflict needs to be welcomed. Many of us, myself included, just need to change our perspective on it. If we consider the benefits of healthy conflict for our team we will embrace it, strengthening unity, revealing blind spots, clearing the air of assumptions and hard feelings. Doing self-evaluation, working on our communication and realizing we are different will help a lot.

So go on, get in the RING!

Have you had success with managing conflict inside of a team? Please share your thoughts in the comments. 

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