Most of us (except Ed Freeman) dislike conflict. People tend to avoid conflict at all costs because it is uncomfortable and often leads to arguments. This is especially true in the workplace. Organizations and their managers often focus heavily on how to effectively and quickly curb coworker disagreements. However, this implies that differences of opinion are a bad thing. Conflict, when managed proactively, can be a constructive problem-solving and decision-making tool. Although we cannot prevent conflict altogether, we can prevent negative conflict. Instead, managers should encourage meaningful conflict in order to further more positive office politics.
Whether a top-level executive or a plant shift supervisor, all managers are responsible for engaging their teams in healthy conflict. Rather than ignoring workplace clashes, managers must utilize the various political perspectives and personal values of their coworkers. These dissimilarities provide unique ways of approaching problems and create a collaborative corporate culture. Similarly, managers must balance the divergent interests of various stakeholder groups. By acknowledging the needs of each stakeholder, the company can adapt its strategy to generate maximum value shared across the supply chain. If managers allow negative conflicts to continue, their company environment will continue to suffer a lack of diversity of thought.
By placing an emphasis on common goals and expectations, managers can promote positive conflict and avoid unnecessary confrontations. Managers must make clear that differences in opinion should not be personal. Challenging an opposing view should never be a direct attack on an individual’s values or a group’s values and the individual or group in question should never feel the need to be defensive. Rather, each side needs to be open to what the other has to contribute.
Ask questions. Express concerns. Challenge ideas. Stimulate deeper conversation. Get feedback. Consider alternative solutions. Work together. Come to a joint decision. Although this constructive corporate political culture is one I would be ecstatic to participate in – as well as one I’m sure Freeman would be proud of – conflict, as a result of human nature, is an issue organizations, managers, and individuals still struggle to overcome.