Making Conflict Work for You

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Some find it difficult to handle conflict.

Recently a senior executive told me “I have worked all my life in a collaborative work environment where we seldom openly expressed conflict. However, recently we merged with a company from another continent. They have no problem strongly disagreeing with each other. In fact, the debate gets quite heated at times. I just don’t know how to be that direct. In fact, when I encounter conflict, I tend to avoid it.”

You may be really thin skinned and go into a tailspin when others disagree with you. That may be because in the past inter-personal friction turned out badly. You also believed that you did not have the tools to handle strongly felt differences of opinion. This is possibly due to the fact that in your family of origin you did not acquire the tools to handle conflict well. Also you may be from a culture where folks avoid conflict especially when it comes to disagreement with senior leaders.

There are two sides of the coin with conflict.

The first has to do with destructive or unproductive fighting. This usually occurs with political turf battles or one ego bumping into the other. Here people get their feelings hurt and generally believe “What’s the use of my speaking up, nobody listens anyway?”

The other side of the coin is when conflict leads to positive outcomes. Here both parties,

  1. Stay attuned to each other. This requires skilled listening skills.
  2. Work towards the same high-level goal.
  3. Seek to build on (not contradict) the position of the other. They tend to use “yes-and” rather than “yes-but” responses.
  4. Engage in robust dialogue but at the same time demonstrate deep respect for each other.
  5. Allow their view to be changed in the face new and more accurate data.
  6. Decide, in the interests of higher goals (the need of the customer), to “agree to disagree”.

The senior executive in the opening example learned to experience conflict as productive and the natural outcome of her new diverse workplace. Instead of avoiding it as she had done in the past she adopted the above 6 strategies. In so doing she experienced new levels of creativity and more productive work relationships.

How has conflict worked well for you and your relationships?









About cedricj

I am a licensed psychologist and management consultant and have always been intrigued by how leaders can inspire people in their organizations. The bottom line is that people are not always motivated by material rewards, the use of the carrot or the stick, fear and intimidation,and command and control, Five human needs inspire and drive us. Kristine S MacKain, Ph.D and myself describe these inspirational forces in our book "What Inspirational Leaders Do" (Kindle 2008)
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