As leaders, we’re often taught to avoid conflict at all costs. However, conflicts are just a natural part of human nature! So, guess what? Not all tension or conflict is bad in teams. In our Human Centered Leadership consulting we have observed the negative perception of this important interpersonal dynamic over and over. So let’s break it down and talk about why conflict, in the form of intellectual and social friction, can actually bring about better ideas and thought processes in the workplace.
Intellectual friction is defined as “the challenge of conflicting ideas within a group as a result of differing perspectives, approaches, or priorities.” This type of friction can be productive and is sometimes necessary for teams to reach their goals—after all, everyone has different experiences and points of view. When these varying perspectives come together, it can lead to creative solutions and even better outcomes for businesses.
In order for intellectual friction to be successful, it should be respectful and constructive. It’s important that team members are open-minded when discussing opposing opinions; otherwise, they risk missing out on potential opportunities or ideas. Team members should also remember that it’s okay if they don’t agree with one another—this doesn’t mean that the relationship won’t work out in the long run! It just means that they need to take time to listen and understand each other’s perspectives before coming to a conclusion.
Social friction occurs when people have different personalities or backgrounds that don’t necessarily align with each other. While this may be uncomfortable at first, social friction isn’t necessarily a bad thing either! In fact, it can help create a more diverse team by giving everyone an opportunity to share their unique viewpoints and experiences. That said, there needs to be ground rules set up for this type of situation—such as being kind and respectful—in order for it to be productive instead of damaging.
The next time conflict or tensions surface in the workplace, don’t immediately think of them as a negative. As a human centered leader, stop and appreciate that both intellectual and social friction can offer pathways for you to find valuable insights into how your team works best together—so embrace them with open arms! Of course, human centered ground rules — beginning with respect — still need to be established in order for these types of conversations or debates to happen without creating any animosity among coworkers.
Once these groundrules are set up however, friction can become an essential part of your team’s success!