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The Benefits of Conflict

Learning and Growing From Conflict in the Workplace

You’re all invited to a workshop on conflict management!  YAY! Now that sounds fun right?  Yeah, I thought your calendar just got filled beyond availability.

Talking about conflict, conflict resolution, conflict management or whatever you want to call it, brings fear into the room.  Knowing they’re bringing in an conflictoutside consultant for a “team building” makes even me want to roll my eyes.  Then I remember I am that outside consultant.

I believe conflict is the source of amazing growth.   The definition of conflict?  The first line, in several dictionaries, is “a state of open, often prolonged fighting; a battle or war.”   The most important word in that sentence is “open.”   In corporate rarely is the fighting physical, although I’ve seen some puffed chest challenges, the conflicts are prolonged but more gentile than that.  Does conflict have a place in corporate?  I say yes, and get used to it.

I thought all conflict should be eradicated.  Then, in grad school, I studied creativity and conflict.  Upon finishing my thesis I had to get comfortable with conflict or never be creative again.   Creativity is destroying the status quo.  Does your business need new ideas to stay ahead of the competition and consumers?  Does your business need true data to succeed in the shortconflict term and long term?  The people with opposing viewpoints, naysayers and passive resistors bring those contradictory ideas or questions to help you get to better decision making.  Increase your comfort with conflict, encourage freedom of speech, stop those who squelch others when they disagree or challenge the conversation.  Your organization needs conflict to really get creative.  Conflict management not conflict resolution is the key.

As a leader it’s your responsibility to ensure room and safety for conflict in all discussions.  You can’t win big unless you’re “all in” to use a poker term.  And you can’t be all in if you ignore information, squelch questions that rock toupees, or have hidden warring factions.

A strategic approach to handling or encouraging conflict starts with you.

Here are some ideas:

  1. Start watching your people in meetings.  Who is talking and how productive or practices are the discussions?  I mean real discussion where people challenge perspectives and data and do people appreciate those challenges.
  2. Check how conflict exists in your culture.  Group think kills progress.  It is there but how do you see it show up?
  3. Know your personal style in conflict.  Do you welcome the challenge?  Or are you trying to ensure agreement?   Use an assessment like MBTI or DISC for easy access to the how you handle stress and how to conflict resolutionimprove your response.
  4. Know when heat (conflict) rises and prepare for that in advance with additional time to wade through the process.  MBTI will also give insight to those moments that really drive you nuts and you get short of patience and tact.
  5. Find a model of conflict management.  I am a huge fan of Crucial Conversations.  Learn it.  Practice identifying and using the steps and then ask your team to join you.  They’ll need to see you using it first to know it is okay to conflict.
  6. Do field work and watch what happens which looks like practicing when the stakes are lower.  If you start using your new skills in front of the big client or the board the path to success will be bumpy or you may lose more battles than necessary.
  7. Allow more time for bringing the conflict to the table.  Yes this requires repeating.  The process of conflict and giving time to other perspectives takes more time than passive agreement.  But it is worth the awkward beginning to get to the juicy stuff that is produced.
  8. Get talking about talking about conflict.  Yes, the actual topic of conflict.  Make it okay to call you on resisting the challenge or closing the dialogue before all voices are heard.  And of course then you stay open when they do challenge you.  They are taking risks to speak.  Make it safe.

Creativity is born from breaking what exists.  Making the strongest decisions comes from asking the right questions and getting the data needed.  Those actions cost your company nothing and task resources that already exist.  You hired smart people now get them to contribute by encourage “lively” discussions.

When you want help being boldly honest in the face of conflict, coaching can help.

If you need ideas on how to ask open ended questions, get stronger facilitation skills or help with strategy to change the culture to around listening contact Pat Weiland, President at Sage Strategies.

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