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Harmony and Conflict

| July 6, 2021

by Amanda Sarratore

[Today’s Tuesday Reading is from Amanda Sarratore, Manager of Academic IT Services at the University of Notre Dame.  She is a MOR alum.  Amanda may be reached at [email protected].]
A couple of years ago, I completed a StrengthsFinder assessment. The StrengthsFinder assessment “created a language of the 34 most common talents,” and the assessment was developed to “help people discover and describe these talents.” (Rath I) Research shows the value in focusing and improving your strengths over your weaknesses. “Studies indicate that people who do have the opportunity to focus on their strengths every day are six times as likely to be engaged in their jobs and more than three times as likely to report having an excellent quality of life in general.” (Rath III) I was excited about the session. I like a good plan, and I liked that this assessment would provide me with a very focused area of study for improvement. I read my results and was not disappointed; I felt I identified very strongly with my top five strengths.

  1. Individualization
  2. Input
  3. Learner
  4. Achiever
  5. Focus

As my team discussed the results, I heard that some team members ranked high in harmony, and it was discussed as a negative leadership quality. I was confused because I didn’t feel it was negative, and I strongly identified with the description listed for harmony. I reached out to the facilitator, and I did score high in this category, ranking it number six on my list.
StrengthsFinder description of harmony: “You look for areas of agreement. In your view, there is little to be gained from conflict and friction, so you seek to hold them to a minimum. When you know the people around you hold differing views, you try to find the common ground. You try to steer them away from confrontation and toward harmony.” (Rath 109)
Unfortunately, I felt like I heard this “talent” was associated with negative actions:

  • Conflict Avoidance
  • Go along to get along
  • Don’t make waves
  • Ineffective leadership

Since the assessment, I have continued to hear negative associations and felt ashamed that I too was high in harmony. I didn’t share this with many people; I focused on my top strengths and stuck to my plan to grow my skills in my top five. But recently, as I was reading about evidence-based decision-making, I came across an article by Adam Grant that caused a spark, and I had to learn more. 
In Think Again, Adam Grant shared that he was confused by a contradiction in his own personality. He questioned how he could be “highly agreeable and still cherish a good argument.” He goes on to say, “Agreeableness is about seeking social harmony, not consensus. It’s possible to disagree without being disagreeable. I never want to hurt someone’s feelings, but when it comes to challenging their thoughts, I have no fear. In fact, when I argue with someone, it’s not a display of disrespect but of respect. It means I value their views enough to challenge them. If their opinions didn’t matter to me, I wouldn’t bother.” (Grant) I had to stop and reread it. This new information sparked an ah-ha moment, and I had to rethink how I view Harmony.
Looking through this new Harmony lens, I was able to see how it enhanced my top five strengths and it is not a weakness. Individualization and Harmony are both relationship-building themes and can present as empathy, helping to establish relational balance, and increase productivity by creating strong relationships holding teams together. Input is inquisitive and curious, and Harmony seeks common ground. These traits paired together give room for innovation and forward-thinking, introducing new perspectives to rigorous examination. Learner seeks out new ideas and experiences, displaying natural curiosity and adventurousness. This could lead to discomfort in a team as boundaries are tested, but Harmony traits can help speed up the team integration as new information is introduced. Achiever is known for working hard and pushing forward, and Harmony can present as a practical thinker. These traits can keep the team grounded in reality and stretching to reach those big goals. Focus shows up as concentration in solving complex problems and planning processes. This trait was the toughest for me to view through my new Harmony lens. After thinking about it and not seeing a connection, I reached out to a thought partner to discuss, and laughingly he pointed out that Harmony is collaborative and problem-solving is not a solo sport.
Focusing to improve my top six strengths, and applying the MOR principles below, I’ll be a better team member and a better leader, growing the good in business and being authentically me.

  • What do leaders do?
    • Provide Direction
    • Establish the vision
    • Develop the strategies
    • Cope with change


  • How do we do this?
    • Making weekly reflection a priority
    • Getting on the balcony
    • Asking for feedback

This week I challenge you to think about your MOR practices and find ways to implement one every day. And remember, my fellow MOR colleagues, feedback is a gift!

Grant, Adam. Think Again: The Power of Knowing What You Don’t Know. Penguin Publishing Group, 2021.
Rath, Tom. Strengths Finder 2.0. Gallup Press, 2017.