We've all been there. Your blood pressure rises, words trip out of your mouth, you are blinking in disbelief. You're asking yourself: How can this person not "get" what I'm saying?!

Truth is they are probably asking themselves the same thing.

This is an all too common scene in the workplace. Conflict is something you've been told since your first summer job to avoid whenever possible. Work is supposed to be about teamwork and collaboration towards a common goal, not about conflicting opinions and raised voices, right?

Well many of us are hired for our unique way of looking at the world, for the ideas that we bring to our organizations. Same story with the people around us. So why are we surprised when not everyone shares our point of view? By design, they shouldn't!

Whether we like it or not, conflict shows that we are engaged in our jobs. Our quest to assert our opinions over a task or an aspect of work shows that we do in fact care. And I don't know about you, but give me this over apathy any day!

But there is a deficit here, something is not working when just over 70% of American workers are described as disengaged from their jobs. Could this disengagement be linked towards our resistance to conflict? As author Daniel Pink discusses in one of his talks, one of the factors that lead to better performance and personal satisfaction is autonomy. Pink describes autonomy as our "desire to be self-directed, to direct our own lives. In many ways, traditional notions of management run foul of this. Management is great if you want compliance, but if you want engagement...self-direction is better."

"We love when people challenge each other, there's no pride of authorship, no ego within the organization," says Philip Krim in a recent interview with Radiate on how he encourages conflict at his mattress company, Casper.

This view is shared by Mellody Hobson, President of Ariel Investments, who believes that dissonance between team members will lead to a better outcome. "If you find yourself in a situation where you are arguing with a colleague you should all stand up and clap," she said when discussing the importance of fostering diverse teams and ideologies.

Richard​ Haass, President of the Council on Foreign Relations agrees, "A degree of friction is good if it's the friction of ideas... It shows you've created a culture where people are not afraid to speak out and they're not afraid to differ." He added: "What you really want to avoid as a leader or manager is friction over turf, I would call that wasteful tension."

So how do you make sure that conflict doesn't go too far? Krim says as a manager a framework should be set up to make sure that "you encourage debate and discussion, you know who is going to make the ultimate call, making sure you have a deadline around that helps you have the best possible idea emerge."

So don't sound the alarm bell and shy away when team members disagree, embrace it. Stand up and clap! This powerful form of engagement is, when managed correctly, necessary for progress.

Published on: Apr 5, 2018
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