Is Conflict Good or Bad? It depends. What does the conflict look like? Is it personal in nature, or is it a matter of differing opinions on strategy? Are the parties trying to do harm to one another?
When to Let The Argument Happen
“When two men in business always agree, one of them is unnecessary.” — William Wrigley, Jr.
Take a step back and assess whether the conflict is worth the effort. This may sound strange, but there really are a lot of conflicts that are worth having. Conflict has a tendency to bring thoughts and opinions to the surface. These can change the way we think about situations and circumstances and they can help us to improve ourselves, and the organizations we work within. (See Lencioni’s The Five Dysfunctions of a Team, 1998).
You will find, as you pay close attention to the conflicts within your team, that sometimes it really is good to just let it happen. Let it unfold because the product of the conflict will bring about desirable information. You’ll learn quickly, too, that not all conflicts will turn up anything of value. The majority of these are identifiable early on. These are the conflicts where you may choose to intervene because the parties may have already decided that they won’t work it out themselves.
Here is where Gerzon’s Leading Through Conflict (2006) can give you some very important information on how to gain and employ the mediator’s skills as a leader/manager.
Conflict as an Antidote to Stagnation
There are many reasons that organizations grow complacent. Maybe you’re the big fish in your industry or market and competition isn’t spurring you on. Or, maybe you’re not having enough arguments. Wait, what? One of the main symptoms of Groupthink is the illusion of invulnerability. Groupthink “refers to a problem-solving process in which ideas accepted by the group are not really examined, and opposing ideas are suppressed” (Tubbs & Moss, Human Communication, 2008, p. 392).
There is no doubt that the leader who can allow for disagreement and conflict in her team and still foster an environment of accountability and responsibility is rare, indeed. Rare, though, is not non-existent. And, once you see the value of conflict in your organization, you will have taken a tremendous step in the direction of progress and improvement.
Then, What of The Golden Rule?
Do we just throw out the idea that we should be “working like a team” and treating others how we’d like to be treated? Encouraging constructive conflict is not the same thing as being antagonistic or insensitive to others. Constructive conflict is meant to draw out better conclusions by questioning the status quo or standard procedures. There really is no reason to make personal attacks.
Conflict Can Help You During Change
You’re always seeking out opportunities to improve your team and your organization. Constructive conflict can do this for you, even during change initiatives. You, as a leader, need the devil’s advocate to speak up and explain why their idea will work better and why the change initiative absolutely must include some specific characteristics. As long as the conflict doesn’t devolve into ad hominem attacks, opposing ideas help your team to refine their plans to account for situations and circumstances, even opportunities, that would not have been considered otherwise.
Encourage constructive conflict!