The very word conflict immediately conjures negative images. Indeed, poorly managed conflict, is undoubtedly unhealthy and will ultimately be detrimental to a company's performance however avoiding conflict altogether can arguably be just as harmful.
Many CEOs, GMs and Senior Managers alike pride themselves on being able to diffuse situations and ‘move the conversation on’ when conflict arises in meetings but is this really effective conflict management and should conflict really be so hastily avoided?
The long lasting effects of this immature approach to conflict management is the demotivation of passionate employees, the papering over of problems, suppression of new ideas and the stagnation of company performance. A workplace where ideas aren’t challenged, yes-men prevail and the CEO leans back in his chair with a big smile with the perception that everybody is working in perfect harmony at every turn only creates a company limited by the strength of the CEO himself.
In today’s complex, increasingly competitive and consistently shifting business environment, it is not possible for organisations to thrive without diversity and different perspectives. Healthy debate, and ultimately healthy conflict, are therefore crucial for an organisations continuous improvement and growth.
How do we encourage and manage healthy conflict?
There are three key stages in the effective conflict management; Establishing the right culture, facilitating the discussions and unilateral support of the outcomes.
Establish a culture of trust and respect
Ensure employees feel comfortable in sharing their thoughts openly without the threat of being shut down or judged by others in the team. Whether it’s a cross functional team from various levels of the organisation or the senior management team, to develop this level of culture and trust they must spend time outside of formal meetings to get to know each other as individuals and become comfortable in sharing their vulnerabilities in equal measure as their strengths.
Observe and encourage constructive conflict
CEO’s, GMs, Senior managers, Project Leads should all embrace the concept of constructive conflict, ensure the rules for conflict are defined, facilitate open discussions and effectively manage any escalating tension without stifling the creative conversations.
Establish Commitment to the Outcomes
Once the meeting is closed, a consensus will be reached and everyone, regardless of their personal opinion or preference, must commit to the outcome. Amazon best identify this in their “Disagree and Commit” leadership philosophy;
“Leaders are obligated to respectfully challenge decisions when they disagree, even when doing so is uncomfortable or exhausting. Leaders have conviction and are tenacious. They do not compromise for the sake of social cohesion. Once a decision is determined, they commit wholly.”
The key to successful, healthy conflict is therefore a level of maturity, mutual respect and shared objectives amongst the team coupled with clear rules and guidance for those tough discussions that culminate in a passionate collaboration and supporting of outcomes.
Is Conflict Management an issue with your organisation?