Can conflict in social business be a good thing?

ted ipad app screen shot

When I work from home and take a break to eat lunch I normally get my iPad out, open the TED app and watch a video to see if I can find any additional inspiration for the afternoon.

Yesterday I searched for leadership and came across Margaret Heffernan’s talk called “Dare to disagree.”

The official description is below

Most people instinctively avoid conflict, but as Margaret Heffernan shows us, good disagreement is central to progress. She illustrates (sometimes counter-intuitively) how the best partners aren’t echo chambers — and how great research teams, relationships and businesses allow people to deeply disagree.

Trouble viewing? Click here > >

She talks about a doctor who was investigating why there was a high death rate from childhood cancer in the 1950’s.

She did a survey and the only link she could find was that children who died had all been x-rayed during pregnancy at a ratio of two to one.

This went against the whole idea of what the hospitals stood for.

Instead of looking after people they were actually killing them.

Surround your self with people who disagree with you

The doctor’s theory was somewhat controversial. She did what would be considered by most as quite unusual. She surrounded herself with people who disagreed with her. They all had a shared goals of reducing child deaths but had opposing views to the doctor.

By surrounding herself with her critics, she knew that once they realised she could not be proved wrong; her theory was right.

She actively promoted conflict because she believed it would end up with a better result than with out.

How does this relate to social business?

Margaret goes on to explain how a vast majority of people are too scared to be honest and open at work. They are worried about what might happen.

  • People might not like them for what they say
  • People might respect them less for sharing their views
  • They may fear they will be at risk of losing their jobs

Social prompts a change in business culture and it can promote conflict. It gives a voice to everyone, from the secretary to the CEO, from your most loyal customer to your most avid hater.

My advice to you

Without the cultural change that a business has to make with social.

Without embracing conflicting opinions.

You will never be as good as you could be.

For you to fully embrace social, it is not about setting up a Facebook page or a twitter account. You need to look at your business and figure out how you can embrace the change so you can become – honest, open and transparent.

joke company hierarchy

You need to embrace change. Remove the old school hierarchy of power that has traditionally existed in business. You need to embrace the conflicting opinions and give everyone an opportunity to share their opinions.

You never know you might be able to make a change in your business and start saving your (metaphorical) babies.

Join the conversation


  1. Just wanted to say that this is a really cool write-up. I come from a different place in the world and a different history (as we all think we do) to where conflict was always a bad thing and ALWAYS escalated outside of “traditional” business outlets. In my current lifetime, I am one of those that’s 50/50. I try to find a way to keep it cool but, at the same time, say, “Get pissed off or emotional about SOMETHING and apply that positively. Channel that.” Too much of this Facebook generation where people want to see and share pretty pictures so they can get “Likes”. Get back in the trenches, grow some balls, tell people what you think. You can make/create anything if you really give a shit. This absolution of power is effective wherein SOMEONE has to ultimately guide the vision when needs be, but just because someone is the “boss” doesn’t make them wiser/more experienced outside of THAT office. Remove the equity and the paycheck and catch someone in a dark alley and their office etiquette/autocracy becomes more amicable to general ideas. It doesn’t HAVE to go there but people need to stop being scared of pissing someone off if what they have to say/do will truly advance things.

Leave a comment

Leave a Reply