Conflict: inevitable yet useful

N°285b – Synopsis (8p.) – Conflicts
Conflict: inevitable yet useful
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Conflicts are inevitable in a company. They even have their usefulness by allowing us to uncover the diversity of outlooks and to manage dilemmas. How can we channel these conflicts towards a productive outcome?

A virtuous and good person neither quarrels with anyone, nor, as far he can, does he allow anyone else to quarrel.” Should we follow Epictetus’s ancient wisdom and tend towards the ideal of a totally pacified work environment? At first sight, the vision is attractive. Conflict indeed represents one of the less endearing facets of business organizations: power struggles at the top, rivalry between departments with divergent interests, daily frictions between colleagues… At all levels, conflict undermines the working atmosphere and generates pointless expenses. It actually appears increasingly less compatible with the younger generations’ aspirations. Doesn’t it go against companies’ efforts to set up a benevolent climate and a fulfilling environment?

In reality, the situation is more nuanced. Without making general considerations on the utopic nature of a human group rid of any conflict, we can only note that companies today are torn between the constraints and demands of multiple stakeholders: it would be delusional to dream of being able to addressing them without friction. More so, even if avoiding any conflict was possible, it is not clear that it should be wished for. The example of this start-up that systematically privileged consensus can testify to it. Like their founder, the staff members strived to maintain as harmonious relationships as possible. Meetings were taking place in an atmosphere of mutual encouragement and non-contradiction. It turned out that, in fact, employees were avoiding potentially irritating topics and kept their doubts to themselves. This lack of critical thinking led them to launch several products that never found a market. Another example: in a manufacturing company, a culture adverse to conflict paradoxically led to heightened tensions backstage. Everyone criticized everyone else, but never directly! Differences that were originally minor transformed into deep hostilities, since not being assumed and resolved in due time.

Thus, conflict is sometimes useful, even if it is not painless. For the executive who seeks to promote a healthy confrontation culture in his/her company as for the manager at the level of his/her team, the challenge is not to curb but to channel conflict towards a productive outcome.

In this synopsis:
– Get ready for a difficult conversation
– Foster healthy conflicts
– Defuse the aggressiveness of your counterpart

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