Turning Conflict into Collaboration

I know a man who was working very hard to create social excellence in his team.  He was fully invested in the people on his team, and he also wanted the larger organization to succeed.  We call that kind of engagement love.

By all measures it appeared that he was succeeding.  He was learning from his own success, and his understanding was expanding.  He was also beginning to believe that the larger organization was going in the wrong direction and some important changes were necessary.

In a meeting with his boss and his peers, the topic of change emerged and the conversation became intense.  Many less successful team leaders, argued against the position of this team leader.  The boss not only sided against him, he openly criticized him.  The man was astounded and filled with rage.  Afterwards he declared to a friend, “I do not care anymore, I am going to resign this position.”

The friend responded with empathy but, then gave some challenging feedback.  He said that the statement about not caring was untrue.  It was because the team-leader cared so much that he was feeling the pain.  His way of coping was to deny the pain, and just go numb.  It terms of fight or flight, he was choosing flight.  The mentor indicated that the strategy is self-defeating.  He said, “Sometimes the only way out is through.”

Afterwards the boss, sensing that he had offended the team leader, asked to talk.  The conversation did not start well.  Operating from anger, the team leader confronted the boss.  “You ask for input, but you do not want to hear what I have to say.”  The boss grew defensive and the two argued.  Then the conversation took a surprising turn.  The boss began to listen.  He shared some personal experiences  of times when he had feelings similar to those of the team leader.  The two discussed how each could be more effective.  The team leader left the discussion feeling valued and committed.

Two short weeks later, the team leader contacted me.  His team had just accomplished a level of extraordinary performance.  He described the evolution and current performance of the team. They were modeling social excellence.  He also described how he was growing as a leader.  He was expressing pure joy.  It was clear that this period of time was a highlight in his life.  The original notion of resignation was now absurd.



  • In organizations, do good people engage in conflict? Why?
  • How often do people respond by physically or psychologically resigning? What is the collective result?
  • What rare skill did the boss call upon to initiate the process of transforming conflict into collaboration, and what was the payoff for both the team leader and the boss?
  • How could we use this passage to create a more positive organization?

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