Having an inner conflict and having a choice to make sounds similar but they are very different. Inner conflict is actually a form of avoiding making real choices.
The cost of avoiding choices
I see this all the time. Startup founders, who know, exactly, in their hearts what is most valuable for them, but for a gazillion reasons, their choices don’t reflect that. What common to them is the sate of inner conflict.
They can pull it off for a year or two (or ten), but then one day they stop and look at their company and realize it isn’t a reflection of what they value most.
They avoided the hard choices.
We find ourselves frequently in situations where we have to choose between two or more things we VALUE and it is really hard to make a CHOICE. Wouldn’t it be great if we can choose one value over the other and still feel that we truly value both?
The great news is that humans invented a great way to do just that. It’s called the inner-conflict.
Inner Con[in]flict is an effective mechanism that enables us to con ourselves, by inflicting self pain in the form of blame and regret, into believing that we truly value something when our choices and actions indicate we value something else.
Sigmund Freud and the myth of the inner-conflict
Freud theorized that the human mind had three basic components: the id, the ego, and the superego, and these individual parts often CONFLICT.
Combine that with the fact that Freud believed that we’re driven by URGES and you end up with an “accountability shitstorm”.
If there are multiple sides (in me) who are in conflict, who is accountable to the final choice?
“Inner conflict” has been so popularized by Freud that it has become deeply embedded in our culture and language:
“I lost control of myself” (Who is “I” and who lost control?)
“I keep telling myself I should focus on our goals but then something urgent comes in and I have to focus on something else” (Who is “I” who is “myself”)
“I know in my heart I should fire that person but my head tells me not to” (Who’s heart is it? Who’s head? What part of me makes rhe choice?)
Deep in our language and perception, there is a notion that different parts of us can make multiple choices at the same time.
Alfred Adler and the indivisible, goal-driven & choosing person
Alfred Adler, who was Freud’s colleague and partner, until their paths separated, believed, on the other hand, that humans were goal-driven, indivisible entities that always CHOOSE according to what serves their GOALS best.
Adler claimed there is no such thing as a “inner-conflict”, only CHOICE. The choice between two or more things we value.
According to Adler, Regardless of what we say to the world and ourselves (aka the conflict) our choices and action point at our true goals and values.
Our priority is the mirror of our values
Each time we VALUE one option over the other and CHOOSE, we are bringing our values into action.
If we say, for example, that we have a conflict between quality needs and the time to market of our products, we are not describing an inner conflict, we’re describing a CHOICE between 2 values: SPEED VS. QUALITY.
By CHOOSING to release quickly and meet our time to market GOAL, we have chosen to VALUE SPEED more than quality (and this is a perfectly valid choice of course).
But Because we feel bad about our clash of values, and want to feel better, we engage in inner conflict. The meetings, the debates they all contribute to the false sense that quality is “important” to us while we keep pursuing what we really value at that moment which is speed.
Inner confkuct costs us twice:
- People lose faith in values because if we’re saying “we value quality” but our actions show that we don’t then values don’t matter.
- People are not really optimizing for what we truly value (speed) because we never say out loud that this is what we truly value.
Relinquishing inner conflict and embracing CHOICE
Imagine this scenario where we, as brave leaders, have the courage to relinquish the need to hide behind “conflict” and are honest with ourselves and our team about what we really value most:
“We have a CHOICE to make. We all value quality but there is a unique opportunity and time to market that is the MOST VALUABLE thing for us right now. So We have CHOSEN, in this case, to value speed over quality”
Inner conflict creates a fog. With the “conflict” gone, clarity sets in and with it FOCUS. Now that the team is clear about what the company truly values at the moment they can focus on prioritizing speed.
By embracing a inner conflict free discussion and being clear about our priority we are signaling to the team that values matter.
We free the team to focus on what matters most.
As long as we are honest and clear we can value our values even at times when they don’t guide us
Lets take our team that was asked to prioritize speed over quality.
Because there was no pretense and false “conflicts”, the team is laser-sharp of their priority (speed) but are extra aware that they need to do their best to maximize quality (the value that leads them)!
Each individual and each team does their best to “inject” and reflect their value of quality in every tiny bit of their work while relentlessly prioritizing speed.
They make the right choices. They truly balance their values the best they can. And they own their results.
Are you clear about your choices or are you engaging in inner-conflict?