Why conflict became my thing!

Conflict is part of our lives. Edward de Bono says somewhere that in our modern society conflict is required of us. Dealing with conflict is not an option, neither is the tendency to argue us out of conflict. Can conflict be an opportunity to increase purpose, growth, conversation and connectedness in the workplace?

Over the years I have been involved in impactful conflicts – from my first fist fights with my friends Karel, the other Johan, and my cousin Maurice (I am not sure that we did throw a few punches) to some major conflicts in my work environment.

Throughout my career I have been accused of avoiding conflict because I believed reconciliation was the desired way. In the past year I had to do a lot of re-thinking about my choices – and my contribution to these conflicts. In the process I discovered people do not avoid conflict for the sake of avoiding. Often there are deep seated, often subconscious forces, that lead to avoidance and accommodation, or prevent collaboration.

One discovery I made was that rather than avoid, I accommodate others’ needs to deal with conflict rather than avoiding conflict. I went through all the training in different models, received the advice of well-meaning colleagues and consultants. It helped but did not change my response to conflict fundamentally until I discovered that when I avoid conflict it is often not avoiding the inter-personal conflict, but rather avoiding the conflict inside myself.

That is where my passion to help people to deal with conflict by literally mining the conflict, go deep and uncover the real motivation to avoid or compete or accommodate, uncover the motivation to settle for compromise instead of doing the hard work to collaborate. Conflict is expressed in behaviour. Behaviour changes when we develop a new consciousness of how we live, when we begin to understand how our behavior is influenced by our subconscious motivation and commitments.

Conflict teaches me much about purpose (see note), helps me grow, opens new doors for conversation and challenges me to connect with a diverse group of people. That is why conflict is now my thing!

Note: I also discovered that making this shift to “coaching conflict” makes both strategic and spiritual sense. All business people know that differentiating yourself from the competition is of strategic importance. At the same time “coaching conflict” is an expansion of the calling to ministry which I held since my childhood.


Source: Edward de Bono, Conflicts. Vermillion, London, 1991