When asked: “Is conflict good"? Most responses would be “no” for a variety of reasons. Conflict retards progress, it consumes resources, takes time, has the potential of damaging relationships and future outcomes and so grows the list. In reality, conflict is a necessary prerequisite for excellence. Our Founding Fathers disagreed vehemently about the content of The Constitution yielding to a compromise that has withstood challenges for more than 200 years. Without this conflict what might have become of our country? The success of the United States of America is a testament to the power of diversity and successful conflict management on the quality of outcomes.
Employing diversity demands that a rich, and often opposing, collection of opinions and ideas are assembled yielding insightful outcomes. These divergent ideas, when held by passionate and capable people, engender conflict which plays a critical role in organizational effectiveness. In fact, experience teaches that minimizing conflict, while personally comfortable for most, reduces the quality of information available for good decision-making and strategy development. This suggests that effective conflict management is a critical leadership skill.
The term “Creative Tension” was coined by Peter Senge, in his book “The Fifth Discipline”, to describe the gap between our current reality and our vision, a gap that must be closed by strategy and execution enabled by effective decision making. This term can also be applied to the gap which must be closed between independent ideas and actionable agreements by managing conflict.
Effectively managing conflict involves two general themes: knowing what skills are required and what behaviors must be avoided combined with first-hand experience. These skills can be described, and even taught, but experience must be obtained. Role playing can be an effective surrogate for experience if specific situations are employed and should be considered prior to engaging in significant strategy development exercises.
Managing conflict successfully requires that each party has an appropriate skill base and understands their situation and state of mind.
Combining this base with a clear understanding of the conflicts’ source and cause, while giving each party the benefit of the doubt, can yield win-win outcomes satisfactory to all. Recognizing and avoiding the obvious traps of emotional involvement, and inappropriate use of power, while endeavoring to be cooperative, increases the probability of a successful result.