The case for conflict in your workplace.
Conflict. The word will instantly conjure up a different memory, story or meaning for each person reading this. Conflict is often associated with war or argument. But in reality it can mean so much more.
Image Credit: Gerd Altmann
Some time ago I was interviewing Managers alongside a forward thinking senior executive of an ASX listed company. One of the questions I asked the candidates was “how do you feel about conflict?” This struck a chord with the exec and she made specific mention of this in each interview thereafter.
The role required someone to engage with and influence various levels of the business and the reason I asked was to understand if conflict was something that they preferred to avoid or something that they saw value in. They wouldn’t hang around unless they embraced the notion of having to tackle and consider conflicting opinions.
Those with a solid understanding of how they interacted with the notion of conflict performed well.
Conflict after all can be defined as ‘a variance’. This is not the most commonly used definition but it’s important to consider it. It doesn’t have to be a fight, or a war. It is the open tabling of different views, opinions or even facts.
When we talk about diversity this is the very premise that we are striving for. A range of different viewpoints that come together and find the best possible outcome.
However the critical stage in this process is the gap and response. Not only embracing the concept that the other person doesn’t see it the same way as you, but also being fully prepared to say that your viewpoint might not actually be the most valuable one for the situation.
If everyone involved can operate with this in mind, the process becomes truly collaborative and your organizational value is realised. But you have to create an environment of trust to use it for good.
I have seen conflict tear high performing and business critical teams apart. For no good reason other than a misunderstanding of what the conflict actually was.
One misunderstood comment rapidly spirals into a tennis match of responses based on imagined interpersonal assumptions and the original context is forgotten.
Time wasted. Money down the drain. Disengagement. Not a good result for anyone.
So to augment your leadership, here’s something to share in the next team meeting.
Conflict: Is a positive thing. It is going to help us get to the right outcomes. So next time you encounter it, STOP:
Verbally recognize it with the other person and tell them that you are going to listen to their opinion with open ears, as you hope they will do for you. No personal agenda. No emotion. Just another activity to arrive at the best outcome as a collaborative effort.
We do not punish anyone for taking on and supporting another Person’s idea if it best for business. We celebrate it.
The intangible value in this approach is significant.
But importantly, do not try to stamp conflict out in your organization. You need it to innovate and to deliver. It is a basic chemical reaction that creates energy.
The seed grows from both rain and sun. The ancient Chinese philosophy of Yin and Yang (The positive and the negative) suggests that these opposites in fact complement one another and are imperative for balanced outcomes.
Embrace your organisational conflict and change the perspective. We live in a world of contrast after all, so let’s get the best from it.
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i40 promotes healthy conflict in our SpiceRack Method training programmes which are designed to harness effective communication in a world of individualistion. The Book of the same name will soon be available on reputable online retailers.
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