Or put another way, can excessive politeness stifle problem solving? Can gentle civility, carried too far, keep ideas from being properly challenged? Sufficiently tested? Can a too-strong desire for consensus lead to group think? Too much harmony curb innovation? Drive out those irritating but oh-so-necessary boat rockers? How do we keep a place for the barbarians of creative destruction? Passion is not always pretty or well behaved.

Conflict not only is a good thing, it is necessary. Even good-hearted people disagree. When we take the time to learn the reasons, logic, emotion, interests, and motivations behind those disagreements, we grow wiser and make better decisions. Respect should always be part of all communication and in an organization, agendas should not be personal. Ad hominem* attacks should be avoided. Beyond that, the truth often emerges from the conflict of opposing ideas.

I prize harmony and frequently strive for consensus yet I KNOW the value of diversity. A leader needs to hear all points of view. Wise leaders surround themselves with highly competent, extremely motivated, and exceedingly confident advisors who will freely speak their minds during the decision-making phase and then cheerfully and enthusiastically execute that decision, regardless of whether their advice or others’ was taken.

Closing quote:

“’Bill (Gates) brings to the company the idea that conflict can be a good thing,’ says (Microsoft CEO) Ballmer. ‘Bill knows it’s important to avoid that gentle civility that keeps you from getting to the heart of an issue quickly. He likes it when anyone, even a junior employee, challenges him, and you know he respects you when he starts shouting back.’” — “Co-leaders: The Power of Great Partnerships,” by David A. Heenan, Warren G. Bennis

* Ad hominem (Latin: “to the man”) attacks usually involve insulting or belittling one’s opponents in order to invalidate their arguments, but can also involve pointing out factual but ostensible character flaws or actions which are irrelevant to the opponent’s argument. This tactic is logically fallacious because insults and even true negative facts about the opponent’s personal character have nothing to do with the logical merits of the opponent’s arguments or assertions, e.g. “Candidate Jane’s proposal about zoning is ridiculous. She was caught cheating on her taxes in 2003.” (source: Wikipedia)