Conflict is “the lifeblood of high performing organisations”

By Elisabeth Goodman, 28th April 2018

I’ve just been reading booklet number 10: Conflict Management, in the “Building Blocks of Emotional Intelligence” by Daniel Goleman et al.

The authors have some powerful insights on the benefits of conflict and how to address or facilitate it constructively, both as an individual participant, and as a team leader.

The benefits of conflict

George Kolrieser is the originator of the quote in the title of this blog: conflict is the “lifeblood of high performing organisations”.

He and Amy Gallo give a great overview of the benefits that conflict can bring to groups as well as to individuals.  Their views are a confirmation of why “storming” is such a vital step in the stages of team development.

Stages of team development_Elisabeth Goodman
Stages of team development, adapted from Tuckman
Conflict is the result of the discussions and disagreements that arise from diverse points of view.

For a group, when conflict is handled effectively, people will have the courage to speak up, take risks and listen to and consider other’s perspectives.  In such a climate, conflict will generate energy, creativity, change, improved performance, innovation and a more strongly bonded team.

For individuals who accept conflict as something positive, it will give them:

  • better results – because they are considering others’ viewpoints
  • learning and development – through self-reflection on their reactions to conflict as well as understanding of others’
  • improved relationships – through being open to conflict, and the strength they gain each time they respond positively to it
  • job satisfaction – through not feeling worried or stressed about conflict at work

“Put the fish on the table”

This metaphor is also supplied by George Kolrieser.  It comes from Sicily, where fishermen will lay their catch out on a table and deal with all the messy preparation of it together. (The opposite metaphor would be to let the fish rot under the table.)

“Put the fish on the table” – photo from
In this situation, as George Kolrieser describes, the people involved are openly raising and discussing the issues involved.  They are seeking a win:win resolution, without aggression or hostility.

This approach to conflict resolution is founded on achieving a common goal, or, as Richard Boyatzis puts it, an “overarching objective”.

The people involved are able to feel and demonstrate respect for each other – although they don’t have to like each other!

How individuals can address conflict

The following approach is my take on those described in the booklet by Amy Gallo, George Pitagorsky and Matthew Lippincott.

Addressing conflict

  1. Be self-aware.  This is about taking time to assess how you are feeling: your emotional response to the situation; stepping-back.
  2. Adjust your mindset. Considering the conflict as an opportunity rather than a problem; one where you can help others as well as yourself.
  3. Consider the other’s perspectives.  Show your interest in what they have to say; ask diplomatic questions; empathise; treat it as a learning opportunity.  Be aware that the organisational context may have some bearing on their perspective.
  4. Prepare your response.  Think about what the common goal might be.  Choose an appropriate time and place to have the discussion.
  5. Achieve closure.  Make sure that both parties reach agreement on a decision and on the resultant action, and that they follow-through.

Amy Gallo has some additional useful tips on how an individual can help themselves by unloading their emotions before having a discussion – perhaps with a ‘neutral’ third party.  They can also practise the discussion with a third party.  And of course it’s important to know when to take time out to deal with your emotions and calm down.

How leaders can facilitate conflict resolution

George Kolrieser’s “secure base leadership” concept is about providing individuals with both a safe and challenging environment to work within.  This applies to how they help their team members deal with conflict, as well as to day-to-day management.

RiverRhee includes modules on dealing with difficult people and situations, and on emotional intelligence in our training for leaders, managers and teams
Leaders can create a climate for positive conflict by:

  1. Positively promoting the differences within the team
  2. Helping people to get to know each other in a deeper way (which is why face-to-face team building activities are so valuable)
  3. Encouraging and supporting people to speak up
  4. Personally accepting conflict, risk-taking and failure as promoters of growth

They can facilitate discussions to deal with conflict by:

  1. Recognising when conflict is happening, and acting on it early
  2. Learning to put their own emotions aside (keeping their emotions “under wraps”)
  3. Tuning in to what the individuals are experiencing emotionally, their ideas and perspectives
  4. Facilitating the conversation – using all the strategies described for the individual in the section above


Dealing with conflict is not easy!  So much of it is learning to separate automatic emotional responses from the issues involved.  Those issues may be to do with the relationship of the ‘protagonists’ and/or with a particular topic.

However, like just about anything in life, the more we learn to deal with conflict, the more we will learn about ourselves and others, and the better we will get at reaping the associated benefits!

And sometimes… it may just be about choosing the battles we want to fight, as well as when and how to do so…


About the author. Elisabeth Goodman is the Owner and Principal Consultant at RiverRhee Consulting., a consultancy that specialises in “creating exceptional managers and teams”, with a focus on the Life Sciences. (We support our clients through courses, workshops and personal one-to-one coaching.)  Elisabeth founded RiverRhee Consulting in 2009, and prior to that had 25+ years’ experience in the Pharmaceutical Industry in line management and internal training and consultancy roles supporting Information Management and other business teams on a global basis.  RiverRhee is a support supplier for One Nucleus and a CPD provider for CILIP (Chartered Institute for Library and Information Professionals). Elisabeth is accredited in Change Management, in Lean Sigma, in Belbin Team Roles, MBTI (Myers Briggs Type Indicator) and is an NLP (NeuroLinguistic Programming) Practitioner. She is a member of CILIP and of APM (Association for Project Management) in which she was a founding member of the Enabling Change SIG.