Are You In A Healthy Or Unhealthy Conflict?


My name is Sari van Poelje. I’m the Director of Intact Academy, and Agile Business Innovation. In Intact Academy, we train people from beginners, to advanced coach, to team coach, to agile consultants. For more information on that go to In Agile Business Innovation, I help businesses innovate more quickly than their products. That means we work on their leadership, their cooperation, their partnership, and accelerate their time to market. If you want to know more about that, go to


Today, I’d really like to talk about conflict. Last night, we had all sorts of riots in the major cities in Holland against the COVID measures. I was thinking, is this an expression of democracy? Or is it a bit weird? Because how can you demonstrate against a virus and then against the virus measures? I’m not sure about the answer. What I am sure about it is how to create creative conflict.


I’ve been working with conflict and conflict management for a long time. It’s one of the reasons I get called into teams: to mediate in conflictual situations. One of the really good quotes about that is from Mary Parker Follett: “We have thought of peace as passive and war as an active way of living. But the opposite is true. War is not the most strenuous life, it’s a rest cure, compared to the task of reconciling our differences.” I really, really agree with her. War is easy, like demonstrating and fighting our police. It’s difficult to create dialogues where we reconcile our differences, and that’s what I want to talk about. 


First, I want to talk about what conflict really is and the nature of conflict. For me, conflict is a situation in which two parties want opposing goals but they need each other to get the result. If you have opposing goals, and you don’t need each other, you just walk away. In that sense, there’s no need for conflict. The good news is that if you have conflict, there’s always an underlying need for cooperation or dependency. The trick is to figure out if that dependency is healthy or unhealthy. 


If it’s a healthy dependency, you usually get healthy conflict. Because then you go, “Oh, we want different things, but we need each other”. It could be material, it could be emotional, it could be spiritual. That’s why you enter into a dialogue to reconcile your differences. 


Of course, we also have unhealthy conflict. When people do this, they think they’re dependent on each other, and they keep on fighting. Usually, they end up in what we call racketeering. This is a continuous complaint without issue, without a problem solving result. An unhealthy conflict or unhealthy dependency, we call symbiosis. This is where two people think they’re dependent on each other, but they’re actually not. They’re actually pretending, it’s almost like, one person is in front of a bicycle with the other person on the back, and one is steering and the other person thinks “I’m really dependent on this”. But in reality, you can just get off the bike.


In relationships, sometimes people get unhealthily dependent, so then people pretend that the other person has to think for them, or has to feel for them, or has to decide for them. In the case of unhealthy dependency, or symbiosis. You then usually see unhealthy forms of conflict. That’s to say that people have different goals. They’re not really dependent but they’re fighting for their life in a sense, because they think that without the other person, they’re not whole or they’re not alive.


In that case, you usually see escalating conflict or continuous complaints without issue, as I said. Now, to make that clear, sometimes in this unhealthy conflict, we’re out to get people. So what happens is because you’re fighting for your life as it were, this is your sentiment, you really feel as if you’re dependent on the other person, you’re out to get domination or revenge. It’s not really the creative transformation that we hope for in healthy conflict.


I think in a healthy conflict, where you have opposing goals, and you do have dependency in whatever form, but a healthy form of dependency, then you speak from the heart. You can really tell the difference in the type of commitment people have. If it’s a healthy conflict, people speak from the heart and they’re willing to change the way they are to create a healthy solution. They’re willing to change the way they act to create a healthy solution. I’m talking not only between two people, but also nationally, or internationally. If you’re not willing to change the way you are or the way you act, then it’s really, really difficult to come to a healthy conclusion in any conflict at all. 


The question for you here is, are you in a healthy conflict? or unhealthy conflicts? The way you can tell is, do you have opposing goals? Not a problem? Do you have a little bit different goals? How far apart are your goals? That’s the first question. 


The second question is, are you really dependent on the other person to solve this problem? Or is it just something that’s a habit to you to think you’re dependent on this person to solve this problem? If you’re unhealthily involved in a dependency, then maybe it’s time to ask yourself a question. You know, in secret, is it time to grow up? Growing up also means you realize that in the end that you’re responsible for your own life.


The third thing you can ask yourself is, am I willing to change the way I am? or change the way I act? To meet someone halfway to create a healthy dialogue, and end this conflict? 


That’s all for now. 


Thank you.

Published On: February 4th, 2021By
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