Using conflict as a catalyst for growth

“Your silence is violence. If you’re not for me, you’re against me. If you don’t speak up, I won’t work with you anymore,” she said. 

It was six thirty in the morning when I read this. I received an email from a marketing expert who had been helping me with my strategy. When I read these words you can imagine the discomfort I felt. 

I put my phone down and reached for rational thoughts. There weren’t many. 

What are my thoughts? Think, Misti, think. What do you want to say about Floyds death?

I reached out to a past client who knew me well. 

“Am I a good person?” I asked… in not exactly those words. 

“I have seen you stand up for many marginalized groups,” he said, “Don’t let this get to you.”

Understanding Their Fears

Dedicated to working through tough conversations (especially those I spend time and money on), I took a deep breath, grounded myself, and set a time to talk.

The next morning I got the opportunity to truly understand the fears that had grabbed a hold of her. These fears were exasperated by police officers making rounds in her community. Rather than say, “I’m scared out of my mind that I’m about to be brutalized because of the color of my skin,” she lashed out at me. 

This conflict served as a strong catalyst for growth in my listening, patience, understanding, and ability to strengthen a relationship. 

When Leaders Avoid Difficult Conversations

Many companies and leaders miss out on the benefits of such conflicts. (Mostly because they have no formal training on how to handle uncomfortable emotions). Rather than lean in, seek understanding, and strengthen relationships, many avoid, dismiss, and often opt for sarcasm to deal with the discomfort. 

When difficult conversations aren’t happening and people aren’t being held accountable, innovation, morale, and engagement suffer. In the digital age, an empowered, inspired, inclusive, diverse and adaptable workforce is fundamental to any company’s success.

The Gallup Organization estimates that there are 22 million actively disengaged employees costing the American economy as much as $350 billion dollars per year in lost productivity. That’s a high price to pay, especially when training is a fraction of the cost.

Strong Relationship Endure Difficulty

When it comes to depth and strength in relationships (which is what allows us to take risks together), conflict is often a necessary component. Part of being a human being is to have sensitivities… “buttons,” if you will. Unknowingly push them and defensives give rise to conflict. Those who give us space to have our moments of frustration (humanity) wind up strengthening trust, which is arguably the most critical component of strong relationships. 

Conflict can serve as a powerful catalyst for growth—personally and professionally–when we know how to engage in them.  

Using Conflict To Strengthen Collaboration 

Leaders armed with the tools and skills to foster collaboration in the midst of conflict are rare. This is the result of a significant lack of training on emotional literacy. It’s easy to get training on financial forecasting, strategic marketing, operational management, organizational development, change management, and the like. It’s much harder to find programs that take emotional literacy seriously. 

Thankfully, communicating well, especially in the mix of controversy and conflict, requires mastering a few simple tactics.

We’ll get into detail on the top 8 tactics in the next blog. In between now and then, please leave me a comment with some of the tactics that have been helpful to you in having difficult conversations. 

Here’s To Your Greatness, 

Misti Burmeister  

Misti Burmeister has been solving people problems and empowering leaders for nearly 20 years, increasing engagement and productivity across generations. Help your team reach its highest potential at