Conflict at work comes in many forms. Good conflict, the kind that is healthy, pushes us to be better as people and communities. Most organizations need more good conflict, not less. But sometimes, conflict can become malignant. It hijacks precious time, trust, and energy, turning allies against each other and distorting reality. This is what’s known as “high conflict,” the kind that takes on a life of its own, and eventually, leaves almost everyone worse off.
The goal is not no conflict; it’s good conflict. In the tech company described earlier, the conflict entrepreneur eventually left by choice. “It’s so painful in retrospect,” the manager told me. “I wish we would have dealt with them sooner.” The company is now actively working to create better conflict rituals. “We have to still have healthy conflict. It’s how we get better.”