CLICK BELOW TO REDISCOVER HUMANITY

The Energy of Unresolved Difference

The real problem of humanity is the following: we have paleolithic emotions; medieval institutions; and god-like technology.                              

~E. O. Wilson

The dead-end approach

I grew up in a family without conflict. Hahahahahaha. We were all expert at avoiding locking horns. We followed a simple formula: Emotions are dangerous, conflict stirs up emotions, ipso facto conflict is dangerous. What could be simpler?

But I don’t think we cornered the market on conflict avoidance. Years ago, as I began putting together sessions on workplace conflict,  I discovered an activity. Maybe it discovered me. Early in the session, I ask my learners to gather at a flipchart. Next, they write CONFLICT at the top, then brainstorm what words come to mind. Finally, I ask them to mark any words that have positive connotations. Maybe one in ten gets a + mark. Hmmm.

We’re reaction machines (got that from William Ury). As long as we frame conflict darkly, our first reaction will always lead down a dead-end track. Yet if we can re-direct that initial response, see conflict as energy, an opportunity for building solutions, and improving relationships, we open up possibilities. I’m not suggesting some pie-in-the-sky, hugs-all-around vision. I’m suggesting a very practical and effective road to better results.

Conflict is inevitable—how many of us have a snooze alarm? I rest my case. Creativity, deep learning, and lasting innovation all spawn in the turbulence of conflict. The collision of ideas sparks progress. What stands in the way of seeing conflict as simply the energy of unresolved difference? 

Our paleo selves

It seems we still have a leftover program from our paleo selves that associates conflict with risk, and risk with danger. Of course, that link works fine for a charging rhinoceros. In modern life—maybe .oo1% of the human story—not so much. It’s a deeply ingrained habit, but that doesn’t mean it’s effective.  When we associate conflict with danger, we create all sorts of dysfunction.

Most of the organizations I work with are fractured. The fault lines arise through an inability, or unwillingness, to transform conflict into movement: they’re stuck. I know that error well because I’ve done the same thing in my work and my personal life. And that “stuckness”  sees differences not as a resource but as a threat. Employees and management, headquarters and regions, office A and office B, old hands and new hires—differences create energy. But without a willingness to move forward, to cast off the paleo fight/flight/freeze default, that vibration creates heat, but not light.

Consider consilience

E. O. Wilson promoted consilience—literally, “jumping together“—a movement in the 19th century which suggested that combining scientific insights and data across disciplines would expand understanding – the physics folks talking with (and listening to) the biology bunch and the chemistry crew. Moreover, he pushed for doing the same across the social sciences.  Looking for solutions to harness divergent points of view, we can achieve greater understanding and make better decisions. And that consilience gets its insights and power from the differences (aka conflict) among those communities.

An example is how people see the new generation in the workplace, from “they’re so self-centered and unfocused!” to “what a force for creativity and change!” People on both sides of that divide can maintain their perceptions and still find a way forward that does not deny either perspective but embraces a consilient vision for moving forward.

We can be rigorous about admitting our own crapola about conflict. Then we can, immediately, ask ourselves Where’s the tiger? when conflict appears. Conflict—unresolved difference—is our greatest source of relational and creative energy. Being afraid of conflict makes no more sense than being afraid of sunlight or electricity.

You’ll enjoy the brief podcast on this topic at http://learningchaos1243.audello.com/podcast/1/

Mac Bogerthttps://azalearning.com/
I fell in love with learning, language, and leadership through the intervention of two professors—I had actually achieved a negative GPA—who kicked my butt for drifting through my first couple of semesters at Washington and Lee University. After graduate school at U. Va., I started teaching English at a large high school in northern Virginia. A terrific principal lit my fire, a terrible one extinguished it. I left after five years (the national average, as it turns out, maybe the only time I did something normal) and started an original folk/blues/rock band. That went well for a time until the record company sponsoring us folded. I toured for some years as an acoustic blues musician, primarily as an opening act for bands like the Muddy Waters Band, Doc, and Merle Watson and such remarkable talent. As that market dried up (disco), I earned my Coast Guard Masters License and worked for the next decade as a charter and delivery captain and sailing instructor. At the same time, I was working part-time as an actor and voice-over artist, selling inflatable boats and encyclopedias, and working as a puppeteer. Itchy feet, I suppose. I came back into the system in 1987 as a teacher specialist in health and drug education in my county school system, also part-time as Education Coordinator (and faculty member) for Maryland Hall for the Creative Arts. I ‘departed’ both jobs in 1994 (therein lie more stories than 350 words could hold) and started my own business. AzaLearning is the career I’d been dodging for decades. I serve 200 clients around the country, helping with all kinds of coaching, planning, transforming conflict, creative problem-solving, communication, and mediation (I also trained and worked as a community mediator somewhere during sailing and teaching): learning, language, and leadership. In 2016 I published Learning Chaos: How Disorder Can Save Education and actively contribute to a couple of online education magazines as well as publish a newsletter, a blog, and the learning chaos podcast.

7 COMMENTS

  1. A great article which exhibits richness of experience of the author who has encountered several fault lines , cracks & joints and several undulations on the morpho tectonics of his life … The best part I liked was to integrate all sciences with Social Science & Management . Mac Bogert has rightly quoted E. O. Wilson who, ‘ promoted consilience—literally, “jumping together“—a movement in the 19th century which suggested that combining scientific insights and data across disciplines would expand understanding – the physics folks talking with (and listening to) the biology bunch and the chemistry crew. Moreover, he pushed for doing the same across the social sciences.  Looking for solutions to harness divergent points of view, we can achieve greater understanding and make better decisions. And that consilience gets its insights and power from the differences (aka conflict) among those communities.’ Laws of Science be it Mechanics or chemistry or Biology or Psychology or even Grammar are Universal, to resolve conflicting differences Amazing article Mac Bogert , that took my mind to depth of the Ocean Floor of my Subject .. Thank you for the great insight!

    • Thank you so much, Vishwas.
      I love “the Ocean Floor of my Subject.”
      I suspect we share enthusiasm for discovery and exploration. I hope we can talk and spend some time pushing boundaries. Please drop by and give a listen to the back2different podcast: https://www.buzzsprout.com/1171136.
      It’s folks from all over the world in conversation about coming through, and out of, the pandemic paying attention to discarding outmoded thinking and practices to make room for new and better. It’s completely pro bono, btw – no ads.
      Be.
      Mac

  2. Yet if we can re-direct that initial response, see conflict as energy, an opportunity for building solutions, and improving relationships, we open up possibilities.
    I love your thinking, Mac and how you see the positive in the negative.
    Amazingly my post of today here on BIZCATALYST on the spinning metaphor of opposites concludes the same. When two spinning electrons bond their spins go in different directions.

RELATIONSHIPS HAPPEN HERE
CLICK & GRAB YOUR SEAT

spot_img

PROUD RECIPIENT OF THE WEB MARKETING ASSOCIATION 2020 "STANDARD OF EXCELLENCE" AWARD

DAILY INSPIRATION. DELIVERED.

DAILY INSPIRATION. DELIVERED.

DAILY INSPIRATION. DELIVERED.

DAILY INSPIRATION. DELIVERED.

DAILY INSPIRATION. DELIVERED.