“Conflict always occurs at the boundary of a shared task”.

Of all the things I learned in 3 years of studying for a Masters Degree in Organisation Dynamics, this is the phrase that continues to bob up into the front of my mind at least once a week. The reality is that because I live with other people, work with other people, play sport with other people, I have lots of opportunities to observe this truth in action.

Here are 3 reasons I have found this little statement tremendously helpful:

Firstly, it reminds me that conflict is an inevitable price we pay for working with others on a shared task. I can avoid conflict only by avoiding working on shared tasks with others. Realising all the benefits of collaborative work makes me happy to pay the price of conflict. The benefits outweigh the costs.

Secondly, it reminds me that conflict is a pointer to important boundaries, and I should welcome it as an important diagnostic tool. The presence of conflict alerts me to the fact that there is room for improvement in the way we have designed and carried out the shared task. Expectations, work flows, resources might need to be re-aligned to get the work done more effectively.

Thirdly, this helps me de-personalise conflict. If I see conflict as a result of work arrangements, rather than personal deficiency, then I am not going to attack, or run away from, the other person. Rather, in a calm manner I can work with the other to get to the structural cause of the conflict. I end up playing the ball, not the man, which typically makes for a much more productive workplace, family, church etc.

What conflict are you facing right now? Does this framework help?

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