How is your conflict affinity?

Calvin does not possess strong Conflict Affinity

Introducing ‘Conflict Affinity’

Conflict Avoidance is a way of reacting to conflict by attempting to avoid directly confronting something or someone. This is often done by changing the subject, postponing a discussion or simply avoiding the subject of contention.

Conflict is…good?

Don’t shy away from conflict — often, the correct move is to seek it out. An article in Harvard Business Review, titled Why We Should be Disagreeing More at Work, details the benefits of conflict, including opportunities to learn and grow, improved relationships, higher job satisfaction and a more inclusive work environment.

Behaviors to foster good conflict


Empathy is one of the strongest skills a human can build. This allows you to understand the other argument. You can consider if you may be incorrect or reframe your argument to help meet the other person’s concerns.

This picture kind of creeps me out.

Psychological Safety

Psychological safety is defined as a sense of confidence that the team will not embarrass, reject or punish someone for speaking up.

Sliding Scale of Giving a F@$%

Cap Watkins outlines an anecdote about an argument he had with an engineer. After arguing intensely for a few minutes about a detail of a design, the engineer asked a simple question that reframed how Watkins saw arguments:

“How strongly do you feel on a scale of a 1–10 about this?”

When someone else cares strongly, and you don’t feel as intensely about the subject, it may be better to defer. Although you might be sacrificing some sense of perfectionism, it’s more efficient and better for team harmony.

Steel Man Argument

The best way to argue kindly is take on your opponents strongest arguments, not their weakest ones. This is referred to as steel-manning an argument.

Things to avoid

‘Winning’ the Argument

You’re searching for the optimal solution or decision, not an ego boost. If you’re a competitive person, this might be tough, but essential. Are you hoping to dominate, or learn?

Emotions over Outcomes

Our emotions often cloud our decision making. People will do all sorts of ridiculous things to avoid looking incompetent or wrong.

Worrying about being Liked

Hurting someone’s feelings is a common reason people cite when they are avoiding conflict. This is an instance of something that seems kind in the short term, which is actually detrimental in the long-term.

Examples of Good Conflict

Agile Retrospective

Agile Retrospectives are used by teams to reflect on how they’ve been working and to continuously become better.

There’s no way that these post-its are from a real retrospective. Few teams survive to Retrospective 42 before a re-org.

Design Critique

Creative fields often have systemized way to share feedback and handle conflict. For designers, this is paramount, as Design Critiques help guide the team to a common vision and provide a forum for kind yet pointed feedback.

Example rules for a Design Critique. These rules help facilitate good conflict.


Conflict is hard. But pursuing good conflict at work is important. We spend many of our waking hours at our jobs. As an engineer from the earlier Google article summarizes:

‘‘But the thing is, my work is my life. I spend the majority of my time working. Most of my friends I know through work. If I can’t be open and honest at work, then I’m not really living, am I?’’

Pursue good conflict. Get better at managing conflict. Build your conflict affinity. You may find yourself more fulfilled at work and closer to better solutions.



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