Last weekend we attended a local TEDx event.  There were great live presenters, as well as a few presenters brought to us through video from other offerings of TED.  (To clarify: TED here stands for Technology, Entertainment, and Design and is not related to our Power of TED* work.)

One of the taped talks was by Margaret Heffernan, entitled “Dare to Disagree.”  In her talk, she makes the case that respectful disagreement and debate can powerfully contribute to the creating process.  Her message reminded us that a Challenger uses conscious, constructive conflict to spark learning and growth.

A short article on businesspsychology.org cites a study by Anil Menon, of Emory University, in which he found big differences between constructive and destructive conflict.

“Conflict was constructive when managers guided discussions that included vigorous challenging of ideas, beliefs, and assumptions; when they encouraged people to consider new ideas from other departments; when they encouraged their own people to offer ideas to others; and when they encouraged the free expression of opinions and feelings. Under these conditions, mistakes were avoided, weaknesses were spotted early, differences were settled amicably, and the new products they introduced did significantly better in the marketplace.”

In short, a Challenger uses conflict and differences of opinion as an opportunity to encourage new ideas and innovation.

Menon’s also found:

“Conflict was destructive when managers allowed subordinates to distort and withhold information, to express hostility and distrust, to create obstacles to impede decisions, and to overstate needs to falsely influence others. Under these conditions, mistakes and weaknesses went unnoticed, differences graduated into feuds, and the new products they introduced fared poorly in the marketplace.”

Constructive Conflict: The Challenger's ContributionWhat holds true in Menon’s study holds true in the workplace and in our lives.

Destructive conflict produces or perpetuates drama.  The Dreaded Drama Triangle (DDT)™ thrives on such conflict as Victims, Persecutors, and Rescuers vie on who is right, who is going to win and who is to blame.  The result is that people become more defensive and attached to their position.

Constructive conflict, on the other hand, is a contribution that the Challenger makes to creating.  They see co-workers as Creators and focus on the outcomes that they want.  Let us “dare to disagree” with each other as Co-Creators, sparked by a free expression of ideas, grounded in our intent to learn and produce better results.