Saturday 10 August 2013

Believe it or Not we Need to Conflict More!

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“The gem cannot be polished without friction, nor man perfected without trials.” Chinese Proverb

Imagine we are sitting at a nice al fresco cafĂ© and as  you are sip your hot coffee, I asked you  to describe what is a  'healthy working relationship'

 What do you think you might say? What are the factors and components  you would consider important for a relationship between colleagues to be engaging and productive? Does having a healthy working relationship mean you need to be in agreement all the time?

 Would you say that a healthy working relationship is one where everyone feels comfortable in raising conflicts, make sense of the conflicts and respond resourcefully in a timely fashion and thereafter document and share their learning with the rest? Emm... Now wouldn't that be spectacular. 
In this post I would like to begin an exploration in Organisational Conflicts.

As HR practitioners and solution partners there are many things we can do to help our Organisations become more graceful in dancing with Conflicts instead of locking horns and creating a ruckus. 

“You know if you look around your Department and there are no conflicts, it only means two things; The company has either exists in Shangri-La or people have thrown in the towel and don’t really care about anything anymore.” These were the words of a wise Manager at a French Pharmaceutical company I had the opportunity to work with some years ago. When put talented and people from a diverse background in terms of culture, age, education, experience, gender in an environment there will be differences in opinions and that in turn is grounds for conflicts.

 Sometime ago when I was doing a project for the National Institute of Education in Singapore I was walking along a long corridor when a simple poster struck me with Awe. It read “ Harmony  Uniformity”  Oh how true! Many Leaders and managers, especially in my experience of the asian context, want to achieve harmony the simpler way which is the “can we all just go this agree and those of you don’t, just pretend like you do... ” approach. It’s nauseating and a vastly unhealthy way to handle differences. The massive side effect of this is that ordinary folks in the company start to wonder what I am actually fighting for anyways?

As HR Partners its time for us to roll up our sleeves and be candid about Conflicts in the Organisation. Be bold in talking about what they are and how we can all play a part in developing our personal emotional intelligence and having a more civil yet robust approach to conflict resolutions.

Unresolved conflicts are like wounds that turn septic have the potential to poison the entire biology of your Organisation. That I think most of us who have been in the working world already know. The glaring evidence is people walking out of the business because they are tired of fighting.

On the upswing when you do manage to educate your leaders and their teams about conflicts and especially their own predominant style you are going to foster real meaningful relationship instead of a mechanical soullessness.

So what can you do ?
1.     Help your Organisation have a deeper appreciation of what are conflicts and how individual personality types and bias shapes the direction a conflict takes. There are many wonderful instruments and training programs that help you do that. (For example, even a simple training on helping them identify the five styles of conflicts Competing, Avoiding, Collaborating, Accomodating and Compromising has a huge effect on teams)
2.     Encourage people to be brave and positive about conflicts. Generally speaking there are going to be three main areas people are going to have conflicts in
a.     Core Product/Service : vision, direction, purpose, price, value
b.     Operational Matters: logistics, costs, manpower, workloads
c.      Customer Experience : Speed, satisfaction, care, technology outreach

3.     Educate people (Especially the leaders) to do self reflections and practice ethical conflict practices such as not talking about a person when they are not present at the table (this was inspired by Jack Welch ). Separating their personal wounds from the conflict to prevent projections and transference.  This I assure you will fosters greater trust amongst everyone in the team. In fact when people in the Organisation are more professional about conflicts they open up to newer possibilities and innovation. At the end of the day though conflicts can be disruptive, we can stop it from being destructive. 

I  love the look on people's faces when they get a peer review or a survey result about themselves. The room will be filled with this transformative energy. If you listened carefully, you can actually hear clicking noises. Its the sound of people making that connection between their history, behaviors consequences and new better choices that can make.

Workshops and programs designed to work on conflicts will always be  vibrant, revitalizing and progressive for teams and Organisations.  To inspire you to take on conflicts in your organization more productively let me share a quote from Buckminister Fuller, “If you want to teach people a new way of thinking, don't bother trying to teach them. Instead, give them a tool, the use of which will lead to new ways of thinking.” So  teach them new conflict resolution tools and if there is going to be friction let it be  only those that help polish your Organisation and team to Brilliance!

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