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The Knee is Not the Problem - Nor is Conflict!

Conflict is an energy source for creativity, innovation, and transformation.

You may be thinking, “She must be crazy.” Hang in with me though. I hate conflict too – that tension I feel inside and between us when we disagree.

Conflict is uncomfortable. It’s hard. Conflict is best diffused, avoided, or dealt with by a quick compromise, right? Maybe not.

A Culture of Quick Fixes

We are a culture of quick fixes in business and in life: Move away from the pain, cut it out, cover it up, or simply pretend it isn’t an issue.

Let me use my physical health as an example.

I’ve been dealing with a bum knee, limping and complaining for more than a couple of weeks now. The damn thing catches when I go up and down. I’ve gone from running to slow jogging to limping along on our walks.

I get all sorts of advice.

“Go get a scope.”

“Get a shot and see if you can work it through.”

“Stop eating gluten and dairy, or try a juice diet.”

I would love a quick fix. I’d love a quick scope to get me back to running. I did try the juice fast, and though I haven’t totally given up dairy, sugar, and gluten, I have worked to cut them way back

.No improvement in my limp. It’s worse.

A Different Approach

I decided to try a different approach.

We work with business leaders and their teams. Our clients often call us “The Team Doctors” because we focus on the health of the team to get the team to smart business results. We come in when teams are underperforming, dysfunctional or stuck in conflict. They just aren’t making the forward progress the leader wants.

Instead of focusing on and fixing the current issue’s symptoms, we step back and take a holistic view of the team. The most obvious issue is rarely the cause of the dysfunction.

With that in mind regarding my knee, I went to see a chiropractor, who started asking some interesting questions: How long has this been going on? What was the precipitating event? What else was happening in your life at the time this started?

The truth is, the knee wasn’t the starting point. Months earlier, I’d taken a nasty fall on Whitefish Mountain’s icy ski slopes. (This winter there seemed to be more ice than powder!) The result was a very painful hip for days. I was busy and never really addressed that problem. The discomfort went into the background.

I was also dealing with my father dying and a ton of old family patterns and dynamics surfacing.

Oh, and there was also the thrill of being picked to present at TEDx Whitefish!

Flash forward to knee pain. Instead of considering the bigger picture and the various stresses I’d been dealing with, I’d focused only on fixing my knee. With a bit more insight and taking a contextual approach, I started the process of unwinding the “problem” instead of just “fixing” my knee.

With some alignment help, the pain has now gone back to my hip. That might not sound great, but I think now I can work on the bigger, original issue.

Maybe I won’t get back to running, hiking, and biking just yet. However, the chance of a creative, innovative, and even transformational shift is much more likely!

The Problem with Avoiding Conflict

When we avoid or diffuse conflict, it comes out in other ways – much like my knee pain.

Can you relate to any of these situations?

  • Becoming increasingly frustrated because of constantly having to work around two teammates who don’t get along with each other.

  • Considering leaving a team, job, or relationship because it’s not worth dealing with a bully or someone who always has to be “right.”

  • Working your butt off and thinking you should be paid more – that new opportunity with the sweet bonus is looking pretty darn good.

Each of the above scenarios are symptoms of conflict that has not been utilized. In these types of situations, people are often not willing to be vulnerable enough to say what’s true for them – things like:

  • “I’m frustrated and I want to tell you about the impact the two of you are having on me and my job satisfaction.”

  • “I think you often act out to get your way. I’m tired of it.”

  • “I think I add a lot of value and I’ve been working very hard without acknowledgment. I would like a raise.”

Instead, something was said, but too often when we try to address conflict, we water down, sugar-coat our true thoughts, or use indirect messages to attempt to make our point. This doesn’t work.

The Two Magic Ingredients for Utilizing Conflict

Instead, the next time you find yourself stuck in conflict, use it as an opportunity and dive right in!

When we dive into conflict – with vulnerability and curiosity – the situation can get hard and even painful. However, it also gets real and raw.

That combination of real and raw can have a great effect on a team or a couple, because it brings about the potential for creativity, innovation, and transformation. After being real and raw, we tend to not go back to where we were. Instead, we open the way for whole new possibilities.

This is so much better than avoiding, diffusing, and compromising.


Don’t just fix the knee. The next time you, your team, or your significant relationship struggles with conflict, don’t just fix the immediate pain point. Take an honest and curious look at the whole situation. Yes, it may be hard and painful, but it’s amazing what can come from that!

CrisMarie Campbell and Susan Clarke

Coaches, Business Consultants, Speakers and Authors of The Beauty of Conflict

CrisMarie and Susan work leaders and teams, couples in business, and professional women.

They help turnaround dysfunctional teams into high performing, cohesive teams who trust each other, deal with differences directly, and have clarity and alignment on their business strategy so they create great results.

Check out their website: Connect with CrisMarie and Susan on LinkedIn. Watch their TEDx Talk: Conflict – Use It, Don’t Defuse It! Find your copy of The Beauty of Conflict: Harnessing Your Team's Competitive Advantage here.

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