We all know that conflict can be uncomfortable. And we all know people who stir up conflict for the sake of conflict. We do our best to avoid these people. But we need to learn to recognize the difference between good conflict related to ideas and bad conflict related only to personalities. There are four important reasons for good conflict:
1.Conflict is the Life Blood of Diversity. We spend time, effort and money to drive all types of diversity in our organizations. Yet, if we can’t allow these diverse views to be heard, we are wasting these resources. The only way that diversity can have impact is through acceptance of the conflict that it brings as differing perspectives on issues are debated openly, honestly and yes, even at times, contentiously. This value is well worth the tension.
2.Conflict is Essential for Employee Engagement. You can’t engage employees just by being nice. You need to empower them to break a little glass if necessary so their ideas can be heard. A recent HBR blog piece, Nice Managers Embrace Conflict, Too , makes this point very effectively. You also can’t engage your employees if you won’t go to battle for them when it matters. Employees want to be supported and have impact. As a manager, you need to do what it takes in this area. If you don’t, you shouldn’t expect your people, particularly Millennials, to respect you.
3.Conflict drives innovation. When differing points of view are expressed and debated, new ideas surface. Creative concepts get expanded to much bigger ideas. If you thought of the concept, it might not feel good at first to have it challenged by others. But, through this process the concept is improved, and you gain the support for your vision that makes innovation possible. Learn to embrace this process. In fact, plan for it because, in the end, it will make you successful.
4.Conflict enables learning. When you learn to handle conflict, you learn to listen. And when you learn to listen, you get to really hear others’ ideas. We talk about 70% of learning being experiential. It’s a very sound concept, but you need to be open to the experience. Next time you are involved in a conflict, try to listen really hard to the other point of view. Don’t allow your mind to wander or work to prepare a rebuttal to what you are hearing. Really absorb the message and consider it. Openly weigh the pros and cons. You may be surprised how much you learn.
Conflict resolution is a key component of leadership effectiveness. Managing conflict should be a key organizational competency — a capability that is fostered and rewarded from entry level to the C-suite.