Although many people describe a fear and dislike of conflict, it does have some positive aspects. One positive characteristic of conflict is that if successfully resolved, conflict can result in relationship growth.
My family moved a couple of times while I was in school. The first move was from Flemingsburg, Kentucky to Beallsville, Ohio in 1961. When I arrived as the new kid in the third grade at Beallsville, the other boys, of course, had to check me out. In that first year, there was a little competitiveness that arose between another boy, David, and me. I, as you can imagine, was not totally innocent in the relationship.
David was about the same size and strength as I. His occasional taunting eventually got the best of me. At the Beallsville grade school in those days, we didn't have indoor toilets. There was a pair of out houses that stood at the end of the paved playground. Behind the outhouses was an area that was used as the conflict management staging ground. It was out of sight of the teachers and we could deal with one another in a more private way. However, when the other school children got wind of an impending struggle, a crowd usually gathered.
One day, David challenged me to settle our ongoing conflict behind the outhouse. Given there was a number of other boys who heard the challenge, I felt I had little choice but to oblige. I remember us marching very deliberately across the playground and around the outhouses to a bare sloping spot on the backside. I really didn't know what to do next. I was afraid. I had seen other boys fight in the same place but had never been in that situation myself. We both looked at each other for a few seconds. Then David lunged at me knocking me off my feet. We ended up embraced, rolling around back and forth in the mud and the blood and the beer. Actually, that was a Johnny Cash song. We were simply rolling in the dirt.
Since we were both about the same strength, neither of us could gain advantage of the other. Pretty soon, we were both tired and it was almost time to go back in from recess. As if by common consent, we both let go at the same time. We got up and dusted most of the dirt off and then, David grinned at me and I returned a smile. I remember David and I emerging from behind the outhouse my arm over his shoulder and his over mine. From that time forward, we never fought again. We were never best friends but I respected him and he respected me. What I learned from this experience was that sometimes if you step up the plate when there's conflict and address it and if neither party is damaged in the midst of the conflict either verbally or physically, you can come away with a stronger relationship. Successfully resolved conflict can result in growth in the relationship. I'm not suggesting that we physically fight when conflict occurs among organizational members. However, at times, dodging a conflict can be less positive that dealing with it in a respectful way.
R. Glenn Ray, Ph.D., is the president of RayCom Learning. To learn more about Ray's new book, "Tons of Stone above my head: Coal Mining Stories with Leadership Lessons," visit his Web site, www.raycomlearning.com. Everyday Leadership appears each Wednesday on the Business page.