“I hate conflict!”
I hear it all the time. It’s an all too common statement from leaders and non-leaders alike. The strong preference is to ‘resolve’ conflict and promote harmony.
If that’s you – you’re missing the boat. If you don’t have the skill of conflict “promotion” in your leadership toolbox, you won’t be optimally effective. In fact, I’ll take it even further.
If you don’t promote conflict, you are hurting your organization. Obviously I don’t advocate for you to go around starting fights, but the ability and willingness to promote conflict is a must. Without it – the dysfunction can fly!
Take a look….
5 Problems in a Conflict Free Workplace:
- Too Many Triangles: Triangulated communication is a sign of too little conflict. In brief, a “triangle” occurs when you (person A) avoid a direct confrontation with the source of your frustration (person B), and choose instead to vent to a 3rd party (person C). This dynamic creates cliques, gossip and “he said vs. she said” hearsay. Triangles quickly break down trust. A lack of trust hurts candor, openness and risk-taking. An organization with lots of triangles is in danger.
- Sacred Cows Roam Freely: Sacred Cows are the untouchable (and often unproductive) members of a company. For whatever reason, their lack of performance or contribution is not confronted. They are rarely challenged and they get little critical feedback. Instead, they are left to drift and graze in whatever job they have. Their lack of contribution often impacts the more productive members of the team in that they are expected to ‘fill the gap’ left by the sacred cows. New employees are confused as to why these sacred cows aren’t turned into burgers, but it doesn’t take long for them to figure it out – Cows aren’t confronted.
- Undiscussables Aren’t Discussed: Undiscussables are ‘pink elephants’ – they are big and obvious to anyone nearby, but they are never mentioned. You ‘see’ the issue, but aren’t sure if anyone else sees it. Not wanting to be singled out, you pretend it doesn’t exist. You don’t say a word. It is a symptom of organizational dysfunction. Maybe you have experienced Undiscussables in action – a bunch of managers all pretending not to see the problem or negative dynamic. They live in it everyday, but don’t say a word. Thus, whatever the issue is takes on a life of its own – often becoming bigger than the original issue.
- Bad Decisions are Common: Groupthink is the common expression used for groups that desire “harmony” more than optimal decision making. The goal becomes “consensus without conflict” instead of “critical assessment of tough issues”. I see all too often teams make major decisions without conflict, disagreement or pushback. The result tends to be bad decisions (or at least less than optimal). Good decision making and problem solving requires some conflict and contention. Be willing to be a contrarian if for no other reason than to challenge the thinking. If everyone is in full agreement – you may have reached the lowest common denominator and not the best plan of attack.
- Feedback is Rare: Have you ever got home from work only to be told by a member of your family you have a big glob of something in your teeth? Isn’t it mortifying?! You wonder – “How long has that been there and why didn’t anyone tell me?” Candid or constructive feedback can be hard to give, but it is fundamental to growth and improvement. Furthermore, it is required for building trust and intimacy. I bet if you think about it – your ‘best’ friends are those with whom you have had (and resolved) a conflict or disagreement. Being comfortable with conflict facilitates difficult (but necessary) conversations. As a leader – it is vital you have someone on your team to give it to you straight. Don’t be like the Emperor with no clothes – get and give constructive/negative feedback as often as you can!
Each organization, department and team have a conflict norm. I find many tend to err on the side of conflict avoidance. Your role is to manage the amount of conflict. Move it to an optimal level. Be sure there is enough conflict to avoid these (and other) issues. Stir the pot; kick a turd; ruffle some feathers. Help ensure your organization/team isn’t hiding behind ‘harmony’ when conflict is needed.
If you don’t like this post – I’d be happy to fight about it!
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