The word “conflict” often conjures images of confrontation and anger, but this is often not the case. Disagreements occur in even the most positive and productive work relationships—at least, they should. Conflict itself is neither inherently good nor bad—what is perceived as positive or negative is how the differences are managed and the outcome ensues.
There is a phenomenon that we are experiencing in the workforce today, and more broadly in our culture: The ability to have “good conflict,” to respectfully listen to another person’s point of view, even if we fundamentally disagree. However, this phenomenon is emerging alongside a deeply ingrained tendency toward conflict aversion, and most people still gravitate toward the latter. As a result, teams of all levels walk on eggshells, afraid to say the wrong thing or disagree and risk being shut down or cast out.
We need to engage in good conflict and develop the ability to ask why and why not; to listen politely, respectfully, and professionally; to ask questions; and then offer our point of view. We need to challenge the status quo. We need to think openly, creatively, and strategically, without the fear of retribution or retaliation. We need to have courageous dialogue and address the elephant(s) in the room. This is how people, teams, and organizations thrive. This is how you build innovative and engaged cultures where people are encouraged to participate and not be fearful of how their views and opinions will be received. It is critical to embrace and accept the differences of people to become more inclusive and diverse.
Therefore, leadership teams must engage in healthy conflict, to disagree, debate, and think things through and learn different perspectives. And yes, at times, to agree to disagree and to then align on a decision as a team.
Encouraging, embracing, fostering, and facilitating healthy conflict is one of the most critical aspects of a healthy team and organization.
What does it take to manage conflict effectively? For one, conflict needs to be acknowledged. When conflict is brought to the surface, problems can be addressed, and people can take action to resolve issues. Many people avoid or minimize conflicts in an attempt to maintain harmonious relationships; this is a mistake because the problem may never be resolved. Many solid long-term relationships are born from the difficult but constructive resolution of a conflict.
Another key to managing conflict is clarifying the source of the conflict. Differences of opinion concerning one or more of the following four issues will cause conflict to occur:
Differences of fact are the most straightforward conflicts to resolve. Facts are concrete. They can be checked, compared, and tested. This provides a basis for discussion and exchange of information. Conflicts over facts can be resolved through dialogue more often than conflicts involving the other basic issues.
Differences of methods occur when people may have similar goals and agree on the facts but are unable to agree on ways to achieve their goals. However, shared goals mean that a logical, rational way of choosing among alternative approaches is possible—it is just a matter of convincing everyone that a particular method will achieve the goals at hand.
Differences of goals occur when people have different objectives and may support different courses of action. Information sharing is the key to resolving conflicts over either methods or goals. It helps each person understand what is important to others. Occasionally, when differing goals exist, a third person may be needed to determine which goal (or combination of goals) is most appropriate.
Differences of values arising from different values are most difficult to resolve. In fact, they are often not able to be resolved. People’s beliefs tend to become inflexible over time and are often based on emotion rather than reason. Finding common ground and separating issues that are not solvable from those that are, frequently moves such conflicts toward productive action.
Your mindset should be grounded in giving people the right to think or feel differently than you, and that you will benefit from developing solutions that will be acceptable and beneficial to everyone.
- Conflict is healthy when it is respectful and not personal
- Courageous dialogue is critical when working toward a solution and improving outcomes
- Difference of opinions and ideas can lead to discovery and growth
- Debate can lead to better decisions and processes
Create a culture of open-mindedness. It is necessary to thinking critically and rationally.
Learn more in Chuck Mollor’s new book and Amazon’s #1 Best Seller The Rise of the Agile Leader. Can You Make the Shift?
Read more thoughts on managing conflict in a recent interview with Authority Magazine with 5 steps on a positive approach to healing ourselves.
About MCG Partners
MCG Partners is a leadership and talent optimization firm– aligning your business and people strategy for maximum results. MCG Partners a woman-owned consultancy and is also a Predictive Index® (PI®) certified partner. To learn more please contact Stephanie Holmgren at firstname.lastname@example.org and at mcgpartners.com