Embrace the Conflict
It is a feature of Irish society that we do tend to shy away from conflict. Given our history that may not be surprising. We tend to associate conflict with bullying, victimisation and disempowerment. We only seem to be able to view Conflict with a capital C. It is always a big deal.
Too often, this view blinds us to more positive aspects of conflict. It can be a great source of creativity, it can encourage people to be themselves, to express their own legitimate views and agendas (and, of course, some that may not be as legitimate.) Managers tend to think that the presence of conflict is a poor reflection on their management, or the respect the team has for each other.
In my experience the acceptance and active management of conflict is the sign of a highly functioning team. One of the first things I look for when I work with a new team is the presence or absence of conflict. I am often told “we all get along” as if this is always a good thing. While it can be, in my experience, it rarely is! In reality, there is always conflict. The only issue is whether it is played out in public with robust discussion, respect and ultimate agreement or whether it manifests in resentment that simmers, off line conversations, inconsistency in decision making and in some cases paralysis.
When people tell me there is no conflict it usually means there is little recognition of legitimate competing agendas, management styles, risk appetites or strategic viewpoints. We need all these different skills and outlooks to run a successful business. It is inevitable there will be conflict as these rub off each other at the edges or sometimes even deeper. No conflict normally means no real discussion of different viewpoints or their legitimacy. Too often this means people feel undervalued, unheard and disrespected.
When that process and ability to discuss these differences is absent it is not conflict that is missing. The conflict will simmer under the surface and ultimately that pressure builds up and eventually explodes. What is missing here is a robust process. An opportunity for both a release valve, a process to diffuse any personal resentment and importantly an opportunity to bring different skills and experiences together to create a new, dynamic strategy and process or continue to energise an existing one.
The role of leaders is to manage these legitimate conflicts, respect the passion of those holding different experiences, skill sets or views.
When we minimise conflict too often we minimise the legitimacy of different views, respect for the people holding those views and in turn their teams who are all doing good work. We miss out on the ability to listen and learn. If we can’t do this with each other we will not be able to do this with our customers or the wider market place.
As leaders we need to create environments and processed where we can introduce conflict without it becoming personal and destructive. We need to learn how to express our opinions, respect opposing views, support individuals in the process and get to a point of consensus.
In many ways this is the only role of the leader. I would suggest that you take some time and see how much conflict there is in the organisation. Consider how freely can people express opinions, how often is there “agreement” and later people at your door second guessing decisions, how often can you sense disagreement but know it is not being vocalised. In particular, look at how quickly do business differences escalate into personal issues or how often people take a comment on a business viewpoint as a personal attack and react accordingly.
There are many ways to create processes and environments to support teams in managing conflict to harness all that experience, skill and energy before it becomes Conflict.
If you are interested in learning more please contact us