The Power of Conflict

Having an argument with someone we care about is often a very uncomfortable feeling for all of us. While we are going through it, it is uncomfortable, makes us want to lash out or hide, and avoid the other person all together. But what if we could more clearly see the value in this conflict, and see how the struggle itself can lead to the change we were longing for, but just couldn’t see it in the moment?

Every one of us has found ourselves in a situation where conflict occurred. With two sides that do not see a situation in the same way and feel strongly that their way is the “right way.” This may be with a partner, a family member, friend, or even people we do not know. Conflict is co-created as it takes two sides to form any struggle.

When we are in a conflict with someone, we tend to get caught up in judging, “this is the RIGHT point of view, and theirs is the WRONG one.” This is a form of voting. Our goal as evolved humans is to rise above that conversation. That sounds lofty, doesn’t it? But on the Bigger Game game board, there is a square called “Assess.” It does not say, “Vote.” When you judge, or vote, it’s filled with the emotional charge of “is it right or is it wrong?” Assess is fluid in asking, “Is it working? Is this serving me or the situation at hand?”

Who’s to say what’s good or bad?

The power in conflict comes from the change or shift that occurs out of the disagreement itself. If you look at the government, the two sides feel so strongly about what they believe that it has actually shut down progress many times. What we see in conflict is that something completely new is born out of two sides seeing things differently. The shift may be unexpected, and was hidden from either side until they’ve gone through the assess phase and found a new way to move through.

Sometimes the power in conflict cannot be seen until it is over. We may have to go to battle for awhile, and out of it will come something new, unexpected, and necessary. Something will come out of this that will serve us in some way.

In our culture, conflict is held as uncomfortable and something to be avoided at all costs. But for those playing a Bigger Game, they know that it is just one phase of many and that it is part of growth and progress. Eventually, the assessing ends and we move on to the next thing towards the relationship that we really want to be in post-conflict.

I see this all the time in my work within organizations, and with individuals in workshops and events. Each has their view of what is right and wrong, affecting relationships and causing conflict along the way. Instead, we need to be asking, “What’s the bigger game that we really want to be in together?” The higher goal is to embrace our differences, and even struggles, while seeing the bigger picture. Embrace does not mean agree however. Embrace means the ability to include a person’s point of view into consideration and see if there is a “third way” that might be co-created together. This takes courage, conversation and commitment.

If you are the person witnessing the conflict between friends or family, it sometimes feels powerless. To watch two sides not communicate, and stall any progress is what is most uncomfortable. This makes us want to go into rescue mode, to stop the conflict without having it run its course. However, if you can hold the space for the conflict to occur knowing that eventually, they will work through the conflict and head towards a valuable outcome on the other side. Once the two sides begin to communicate, they are working towards a solution that creates an outcome to hopefully serve all parties.

Was the conflict valuable? At the end of the day, the impact created for the bigger picture, or bigger game, is where to look for what is newly created, how we’ve been changed, and how we’ll choose to move forward with each other.

Bigger Game players know that each square on the game board has its own value. The Assess square is invaluable as we ask questions of ourselves and others about what we are creating in the world. It asks us the key questions, “How is it going? Is this the outcome WE want?” The conflict you are in today may have a powerful influence on how and why we are doing things. The conflict is actually an “ally” to move your Bigger Game forward. If you can see it this way, get ready for your Bigger Game to go to the next level. What I do know is that conflict matters and is necessary. Innovation will come from it. Make it count.

More to come-

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  • Okokon Udo Reply

    Hey Rick,

    Very well done. I really love what you articulate so well in this post, that conflict can in fact be an ally to propel us forward and even deepen intimacy or result in intended outcomes for peace and reconciliation. Your topic is very timely especially at a time in our small and big worlds, where disagreements are fast turning into full blown conflicts, spiraling out of control and leading to violence and outright destruction or even wars between nations. I agree with you that dealing with conflict is something everyone interested in playing the bigger game needs to do. Thanks again.


  • Clive Prout Reply

    Hi Rick,

    I agree with what you are saying. It is only by holding the tension of a conflict that we can co-create the synergy between the two sides. I have historically seen conflict as unproductive and something to be avoided if possible. My new perspective is that co-creation can only happen from difference. This difference can often be experienced as conflict. Any conflict has the potential to generate new insights and learning. Me agreeing with you (as I do in this case) adds nothing to the creative mix.

    My apologies for bringing only agreement and no creative conflict here!


  • Cynthia Sumner Reply

    How very timely. Returning from your fabulous leadership with Pat at CTI’s R1, I landed right smack in the middle of conflict. But this time I chose differently. I chose to end struggle and consciously co-create from a place of “we both get to be right and wrong”. This allows my partner-in-crime and I to start with an intention and create together from there, releasing the strangle hold of defensiveness. Assessment shows up through curiosity, as in “what does that mean to you?”, which leads to deeper communication. The bigger game is the well-being of our relationship and desire for connection. And as form follows function, we find our way to the next square. Chaos and creativity rule. (see you at R2!)

  • Debby Lissaur Reply

    Love this! Here’s the thing: By definition, conflict supports creativity. It forces us to consider new/different points of view. It gives us the opportunity to innovate as we seek to appreciate the value in a different way of thinking. And, if there is no conflict, because everyone has the same opinion, that only takes us right to the land of Business-As-Usual. Same ‘ole, same ‘ole. So if we want to fly above mediocrity, we must embrace constructive conflict!

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