My natural tendency is to avoid conflict. The few times I fought in school, I was caught and punished for it and it didn’t seem never was worth the trouble.
It’s also the case that needless conflict can be harmful to both parties, because even if you “beat” the other party, now they’re holding a grudge.
But I’ve come to realize the value of productive conflict.
Sometimes it’s better to get to the root of a disagreement right away so you can understand it, hash it out, and resolve it. This of course requires you to disagree without getting into personal attacks (of course you’d say that you coward), and the issue at hand needs to be important (business direction vs business cards).
There are frameworks for productive disagreements, one of the most popular is non-violent communication. Another similar one I discovered recently is called The Feedback as described in The New Rules of Marriage. Being a co-founder or closely working business partner is in many ways mirrors a marriage.
This process starts by having you ask if your partner if they’re willing to listen. Once they’ve confirmed, you share with them:
- What you saw or heard that you found problematic (I saw you come into the meeting 20 mins late)
- What story you made up about it (this is where things usually go off the rails, focus on your interpretation – the story I made up was that you don’t care about the team)
- How you feel about it (it made me feel like I have to carry this project on my own)
- How you’d prefer it go down next time (give me a heads up next time you’re going to be more than 10 mins or reschedule the meeting)
- Let go of the outcome (also not easy)
Hashing out smaller conflicts sometimes stave off bigger ones.
Seth Godin calls this “thrashing early“. It may not always feel comfortable in the moment, but it makes things a lot easier later on. By putting your foot down early on, it prevents bigger blow ups or larger scale fights down the road.