Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Turning up the Heat: LOVE Conflict, NEED Conflict, MANAGE Conflict

Who needs Cable TV for exciting drama these days . Just head south of the border and attend a typical “Town Hall” or more appropriately “Town Brawl” on US Health Care Reform.

Shouting, screaming, name calling. It may even remind some of you of work! Beneath the sensationalism of the news coverage of these events, I frankly don't think all the heat being raised down south is necessarily a bad thing.
Lets face it: Most of us struggle with conflict. We either don't like conflict and try to avoid it. Or live for it and create it where its not necessary.. just to see what happens.

Conflict exists in every organization. It is human nature. Your personal and organizational success depends on dealing with it effectively.
So listen up:

Here are 2 suggested attitudes that may not seem intuitive at first but when adopted will rock your world:

LOVE conflict.
NEED conflict.

Yeah, thats right.. I think you should LOVE conflict. I've been guilty of running away from conflict in the past for the sake of just “keeping the peace”. I know that many of you reading this blog, do that as well. We need to be reminded that there is a huge cost associated with conflict avoidance.
First off: It costs us. We end up chewing on feelings of frustration and discontent for a long time because we never asked for what we wanted. We feel like we've lost. The time spent dealing with residual frustration would be much better focused on succeeding at our role. Shying away from conflict dramatically affects our relationships and productivity.

Secondly: The other person loses because they didn't get your feedback which may have helped them get better at what they do. Silence equals approval in most worlds that I live in. As they keep on doing exactly whats bothering you the most (because you've never actually asked for something different), it just exasperates your frustrations. At the very least we'll learn something new that releases our frustrations as we understand the why's of what they are doing.

Feedback needs to be a daily event in organizations for them to succeed. When you see things with which you don't agree , question or believe could be done better, you need to get it out! If you hold them in, they can grow from minor irritations, to battles, to all out war. All of that hurting everyone involved.

So go ahead and pack your boxing gloves in with your lunch box. Your company needs you to fight for what you believe in. You have to LOVE that!
I have a friend who loves to drive his BMW fast. So he'll take his car out on the country roads outside of Calgary and open 'er up for a bit. As he's leaving his house to head out, he'll usually tell anyone within earshot "See you in a bit. I feel the need for speed."

Healthly companies feel the need for conflict and actually set expectations for it to happen.

To help explain, it does help to ask the question: What is Conflict anyway?

If you looked it up in the Dictionary you might find the definition “Opposition between ideas or interests”. I'm sure each one of you have come across vigorous differences of opinions in your organization. While you may not feel like it at the time, you should thank your lucky stars you do.

Companies & Individuals win when employees feel free and are encouraged to express their ideas, especially ones in contradiction to each other. Why? Well, I don't care how open minded and diverse each one of us thinks we are, decisions made on our own are limited by the scope of our individual view of the world and limit our success and that of the company's.

At best an employee may only have a 70 degree view of the world and that is if they are really good! The fact is that companies win when decisions are made with a 360 view of the world. (I.e. all the facts are on the table) .

So it turns out: you NEED conflict in your organization. You need employees to challenge each other's ideas. It allows you to make best decisions as a company and it seeds continuous growth of your employees by honing their strengths with the strengths of those around them. Everybody wins.

So back to Health Care debate in the US. The debate in itself is good. It forces many alternatives to surface to the table. When facts are on the table, they can be evaluated properly to discover their pros and cons. Ultimately, it can lead to the best possible solution being found.

The trouble with the nature of the current debate down south is that most of the screaming is focused on emotional selling and not facts. Spurts like “Do you want government deciding when to kill your grandmother.” simply try to play on emotions of guilt, anger, frustration. While effective in swaying short term opinions and even winning elections, very rarely does it lead to great decisions being made. Emotional plays are usually made when someone doesn't want you to focus on the facts.

As you'll discover in my next blog, Managing Conflict well boils down to separating emotion from fact in everything your organization does. It has to be done right from goal setting to results measurement to daily feedback between employees.

David Benjatschek is passionate about people and the topics of Leadership and Communication. His Freedom House Leadership & Communication Series helps Companies & Indivuals free themselves up to effectively achieve their goals. You can contact David through his website: