Category Archives: Conflict as Learning Source

Conflict as Learning Source

Conflict is desirable from a teaming learning point of view. In fact conflict is inevitable in teams because teams, by definition are made of members with complementary skills and roles. Members with complementary roles are going to perceive situations from different angles. This is positive, but only if the differences are discussed in an open and positive way.

Research has shown that harmonious teams are not as effective as teams which confront, and learn through, conflict. Harmonious teams will often avoid unpleasant situations; problems will be ignored. Therefore the efficiency of the team is reduced. Only by confronting issues will a team learn. In fact according to the FIRO theory teams can not advance to efficient levels of operation without first confronting issues of control (conflict) in the team.

This does not mean the handling conflict is easy. As the Relationship Awareness Theory states, when I am in conflict I am affected by an inner stress or tension. To protect myself, I change behaviour. How I behave will depend on the stage of development of the group, and on the level of my personal development. I may become quite and withdrawn (passive aggressive), I may become openly aggressive, or I may be able to exchange my feelings with other members of the team.

Regardless of the outlet of my discomfort it is important to try to exchange feelings and learn from the conflict.


Warranted and Unwarranted Conflict

The Relationship Awareness Theory recognises that there are two types of conflict, warranted conflict and unwarranted conflict.

Warranted conflict occurs when the people involved do not agree on the desired outcome. For example, in a budget debate one person may think that investing a portion of money in savings for the future needs is the only reasonable action while the other person believes that that same portion of money should be spent on equipment to improve operations. There is sincere disagreement about the goals.

Unwarranted conflict is frequently the result of people’s behaviour being misunderstood or misinterpreted. Literature and research on the subject indicates that the majority of conflict is unwarranted.

Experience suggests that unwarranted conflict can be substantially reduced as individual grow in their self-awareness, grow in their understand of others, and are able to express their feelings.

There are a number of strategies which may be used to resolve conflicts: accommodation, competition, avoidance, compromise and collaboration. In a team where long term relationships are important, the success of the team depends on the co-operation of all of the members, and the team wishes to learn. The only strategy to adopt is collaboration. That is win/ win! If the team is not able to reach a consensus decision (that is a decision all members agree to follow) the chance of the success of the decision, or of the team learning from the conflict, are small.

Using an open communication style, as discussed previously under team circles, is an effective way of ensuring all teams members have the opportunity to express their opinions. The best solution is reached because number of different options are explored. A mutually agreeable decision is reached, and the group continues to operate and learn on an efficient level.

Timed Talk

If two members are in conflict, Timed Talk [1] may be an appropriate strategy to resolve the conflict. The essence of Timed Talk, as with team circles and thinking partnerships, is giving an each party the opportunity to express their opinions while the other party listens attentively.


  • each person has three minutes to talk without interruption, while the other listens attentively
  • use a timer or watch
  • take as many turns as necessary to resolve the issue
  • do not interrupt each other or take over each other’s turn, no matter what
  • if you don’t need all of the time in one turn, save it for your next turn
  • stop talking the instant 3 minutes is up

Do theses things if you can:

  • keep eye contact with the other person when they are speaking
  • focus on finding a good idea, not on winning
  • remember that there is an idea neither of you has yet thought of that will resolve the problem better than you can imagine
  • breathe out

if time runs out before you find a mutually good idea, schedule a time soon to continue.

[1] Developed by Nancy Kline, Time to Think