Does constructive conflict exist in your organization, your department, on your team, in your silo or in your group? Or, do you lead, manage or supervise in an environment where one big, happy family, where all are in agreement, always smiling and saying yes?
If you’re not experiencing constructive conflict in your workplace, you’re most likely not making high-quality decisions, nor are you encouraging your colleagues to be committed to implementing the decisions you are making.
There’s no question that many leaders, managers, supervisors and employees are often conflict-averse. They shy away from conflict, feel uncomfortable about going against the grain, rocking the boat, or being perceived as a trouble-maker or not being a team player.
Aversion to conflict
Much of one’s resistance to conflict has to do with folks who, when growing up, were subject to consistent loud arguments, disagreements and fights between their parents, primary care-givers, relatives or friends, and as a result grew to become fearful, scared, threatened or unsafe around folks who raised their voices in argument, dissent, disagreement and verbal abuse.
Now, as adults, many of these folks resist conflict as, often unconsciously, their childhood fear and terror leak out in workplace situations where conflict arises. So, in the workplace, and elsewhere in life, they do what they can to avoid or deny conflict. They defer, become quiet, accommodate others, or consistently nod in agreement. They go along to get along, and opt to be silent when facing real or perceived conflict. They see conflict as bad and threatening to their personal or professional sense of safety, security and well-being.
So, two things need to be said:
·That was then and this is now. When faced with conflict, its important to be conscious and aware of the dynamic that is playing out and know that fear around conflict at work is most probably old stuff that is coming up. Working to deal with and move through one’s fear and resistance with a qualified coach or counselor can bring one to “metabolize” their childhood fear, understand what it is and choose to engage in conflict without fear of reprisal, being “bad” or “wrong”, or being physically or verbally hurt in some way, shape or form.
·Constructive conflict not only is a requirement for optimizing the decision-making process, but as leaders, managers and supervisors, you have a responsibility to foster dissent in your organization, on your team or in your department.
There are those who are not conflicted by conflict. But, how do you generate dissent or disagreement, and generate engagement, when some folks prefer to avoid conflicts at all costs?
Engaging people who are resistant
One strategy to involve resistant folks in constructive conflict is to appoint (and allow) them to be “contrarian.” You can ask, encourage and allow them to take an opposite viewpoint, to play devils advocate and speak to an issue from a different perspective.
You can ask folks to play the role of your competition and present a conflicting view that your competitors might take.
You might ask others to explore what if scenarios, no matter how off the wall they are.
The point of constructive conflict
Its important not only to include all necessary players in the decision-making process but to be sure to cover all the decision-making bases even though some folks initially may feel uncomfortable or experience some dis-ease in the process. Its important that folks not be seen, or made to be seen, as bad or wrong but as valuable contributors to the process. Its also critical to create a safe and trusting environment where folks can open up and say what’s on their mind without fearing ostracism, reprisal or unfair personal judgments or criticism.
One purpose of fostering constructive conflict is to have everyone put all their cards on the table, dissent, disagree, diverge, be ambiguous, be inconsistent with conventional wisdom and be out in the open with their views or perspectives regardless of ones role, position or place in the hierarchy. In an environment of constructive conflict, ones ideas can be refuted, disagreed with, countered, etc., but cannot be silenced, cut off or shut down.
What is Constructive conflict?
…is constructive being open, allowing, accepting and non-judgmental for “the good of the order.”
…focuses on ideas, not personalities.
…allows for disagreement
…follows ground rules for interacting.
…is mutually respectful.
…fosters and encourages divergent and lateral thinking and varied perspectives.
…takes place in a living laboratory where folks are learning how to engage in constructive conflict and learning about themselves in the process.
…is intentional about repairing any damaged relationships that may arise or result from the process.
…is fair where all are heard and all ideas are considered, even though not everyone may be satisfied with ultimate decision.
…is open and transparent.
…holds people accountable for their role in the process.
…supports the process of relationship building and meaningful dialogue
The notion underlying constructive conflict is to create a safe and trusting environment where all are heard in order to enhance the decision-making process and garner buy-in and commitment from the participants for implementing decisions.
Constructive conflict, when implemented appropriately, fosters commitment and collaboration. Leaders, managers and supervisors would do well to consider constructive conflict as a process to drive change where all parties are “drivers, not passengers”.
So, some questions for self-reflection are:
·How do you, personally and professionally, feel about conflict? Good, bad, indifferent? Why?
·Do you encourage others to be “contrarian”, to “argue the “opposing side”, etc.? Are you open to divergent thinking? If not, why not?
·What was your experience with conflict as you were growing up?
·Do you ever take the “other side” to positively and thoughtfully further a discussion or decision-making process?
·What is the culture in your organization, in your team or department around conflict, or constructive conflict?
·Are you always or usually an “I’m right” individual at work, (at home or at play)?
·Do you see conflict as an opportunity?
·Do you shy away from, avoid or resist conflict at all costs?
·Does your need to achieve at work foster collaboration or conflict with others?
·Are you a good listener?
·Does your organization provide training in conflict resolution? If not, why not?
·What was the latest conflict in which you were involved that was resolved constructively? What was your role?
·When engaged in a conflict, are you able to separate personalities from issues?
(c) 2008, Peter G. Vajda, Ph.D. and SpiritHeart. All rights in all media reserved.
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