At a recent workshop, consultant and author Greg Curtis outlined what is the right kind of conflict to occur in meetings and the language to use to ensure the conflict stays appropriate
I recently had the privilege to participate in a teacher leader workshop led by Greg Curtis. Greg is a consultant, the Curriculum Director at the International School of Beijing, and the author of Leading Modern Learning: A Blueprint for Vision-Driven Schools (written with Jay McTighe – co-author of Understanding by Design).
The workshop focused on facilitating effective meetings. One of the concepts that hit home to me was the idea of conflict.
I have to let you know that I hate conflict. I take conflict very personally. It’s my kryptonite. I prefer when colleagues are collegial.
But, Greg Curtis introduced a new way of looking at conflict in the workplace. First, he introduced the idea that there are different kinds of conflict. Greg talked about two kinds of conflict in particular: Cognitive and Affective. Affective Conflict is the interpersonal/disruptive conflict. This is the stuff I hate. Cognitive Conflict, on the other hand, is (believe it or not) a necessary kind of conflict. It concerns simple differences in opinions – conflicts concerning issues, not personal traits. Cognitive Conflicts, among diverse groups, are inevitable. Different people, when they get together to discuss important issues, will not necessarily agree on what the issues actually are or how to solve them. What is critical is that the group solve the issues as Cognitive Conflicts without slipping into the ugly Affective mode.
Greg then gave us a list of conversation stems – ways of disagreeing without being negative or personal. Here are a few that might be useful in your next meeting:
- “Here is a related thought….”
- “I hold it another way…”
- “I see it differently…”
- “Hmm, from another perspective…”
- “An additional idea might be…”
- “An assumption that I am exploring is…”
- “And, taking that one step further…”
In general, “and” is always preferable to “but”.
The bottom line, Greg told us, is you never tell a colleague “You’re wrong!”
At the conclusion of the workshop, Greg left us with some thought-provoking quotes about conflict:
“Successful groups know how to fight gracefully.” Robert Garmston and Bruce Wellman
“Conflict is natural, neither positive nor negative, it just is.” Thomas Crum