Heather Comstock Connects

Helping nonprofits and other volunteer organizations develop strong relationships and a clear voice in the community.

Squeaky Wheels: Embracing Conflict on Your Board

Take a look at this TED Talk from Margaret Heffernan on the role of conflict in organizations.

In the video, Ms. Heffernan relates the story of epidemiologist Dr. Alice Stewart and how she harnessed conflict with her partner George Kneale to strengthen her case. Kneale’s role was to review the statistics and prove her wrong.  Dr. Stewart knew other doctors would be searching for weaknesses in her argument and rather than waiting, she searched for them herself. That’s a pretty brave stance.

I’ve been pondering this video all week (and found inspiration for the blog I write for Pinnacle Empowerment Center) and how right Ms. Heffernan is that conflict can be constructive.  However, we take a lot of steps to avoid conflict in our lives.

One of the big questions is how to recruit committed and active individuals to serve on boards. However, much of the time, we are concerned about recruiting individuals who will “get along” with the rest of the board members.  We ask board members to refer people in their network to serve.  Doesn’t that mean we wind up with the same ideas, opinions, and networks on our boards?

Are we doing ourselves a disservice? Wouldn’t the organization benefit from someone who is always asking “why?” or not satisfied with doing things the same old way? Conflict might take up more time or make board meetings longer, but would your organization benefit from harnessing some constructive conflict? 

I think ultimately, the trick is to not be afraid of conflict.  Use it start a conversation and see how you could strengthen your organization rather than waiting for outside forces to find those weakness for you.

Have you been able harness conflict creatively within your organization?


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