I can estimate that your company manages conflict poorly based on the law of large numbers.
If you don't recognize this sentence, I applaud you: you are among the fortunate few who work in a productive and successful environment.
Conflict is horrible in the rest of the organizations, with the majority of its members seeing it as negative, unpleasant, demotivating, inefficient, a self-confidence killer, and, therefore, something to be avoided at all costs.
As a result, most team members' top priority is to reach consensus and agreement as quickly as possible, while keeping any conflict concealed.
When the fact is that many of these arguments have the potential for extraordinary outcomes.
There is a significant gap between how theory tells us what is the ideal way to do things and how these same topics are really applied in our companies, as it happens in many other areas within the Leadership umbrella.
Theories based on an abundance of research and case studies suggest that 'constructive' conflict is required for any team or organization to attain greater levels of performance.
We may question concepts, ideas, tactics, and plans via constructive conflict, which leads teams to continually expand on what they have and come up with better solutions than those that arise from 'continuous agreement.'
Why do most companies and teams attempt to avoid constructive conflict like the plague if it is so necessary and beneficial?
What is the source of this 'fear' of confronting ideas?
And, more importantly, how can we, as managers and leaders, use that scenario to our advantage?
The truth is that we, as humans, are terrible at dealing with conflict. And that incapacity is turning every honest, genuine, cooperative thinking exchange into a war, to persuade, impose, and dominate people by our preferences and views.
If you believe that addressing 'constructive' conflict in your company or team can help you all be more productive and successful, I recommend beginning with two fundamental areas.
The first step would be to raise the degree of trust.
We are terrified of disagreement because of the negative implications it might have on us:
- Looking stupid in front of others
- Making enemies inside the group
- Being put in a different 'category'
- Losing authority within the group
- Being mistreated in public, especially by my superior
All of these concerns stem from a lack of trust among team members.
It is our obligation as a leader or manager to eliminate (or at least reduce) these anxieties through increasing trust levels.
You are not performing your job if you are not focused on this.
The second area is to strengthen the team's conversational skills.
The way we approach talks with others, specifically our capacity to remain longer in a constructive and courteous dialogue about a dispute, has a significant impact on the outcomes we may accomplish together.
I suggest reading Craig Weber's book 'Conversational Capacity' if you want to see this in action and discover ways that you and your team may use. It shifted my thinking on how to approach talks.
By taking simple, consistent measures to
(1) improve team trust, and
(2) learn to approach conversations more effectively
you'll notice the results you acquire improve to levels you've never experienced before. And you'll know that you're doing exactly what a good manager or leader should: creating a conducive climate for success.