No organization is immune to conflict. Most CEOs have witnessed employees becoming irritated or running into problems with a co-worker. But new research by Eli Lilly and Company shows that this type of conflict can increase the probability of technical and commercial success — as long as the conflict is of the productive variety.
This is something I have witnessed firsthand. Not too long ago, we experienced a conflict between our creative department and our developers about how to proceed with a project that would take a lot of time, resources, and deep thinking to be executed efficiently.
The conflicting views ended up producing better results, more attention to the small details, and a continuous dialogue that made the process flow more smoothly.
Why CEOs Should Embrace Conflict
Although conflict can be healthy, many CEOs shy away from it. Some stay away because conflict is time-consuming, and CEOs have no time to waste on the gossip and bickering that can accompany workplace conflict. But if a CEO fails to step in and evaluate the conflict, chances are more time will be spent dealing with the fallout, especially when no one has stepped into the role of referee.
Those who embrace conflict often lead their companies to become more innovative and productive. When you don’t embrace conflict, you risk losing some of your best talent and fostering an atmosphere that shuns healthy, open debate in the workplace: Any time a talented employee disagrees with co-workers who might not be as well-versed in certain subjects, it usually ends badly.
But having a mediator sort through valid points and potential misguided sentiments helps lead to more respectful conversations. If there is no opportunity for healthy debate, a huge blowout at some point is likely. While everyone hopes mature adults would conduct themselves appropriately in the workplace, it’s hard to expect everyone to have the same type of conflict-resolution methods. The last thing any CEO wants is to have her office turned into WWE’s “Raw.”
Inspiration for Embracing Healthy Conflict
Apple founder Steve Jobs is a classic example of a CEO who embraced company conflict. While he may not have agreed with his staff or board of directors on all points, he got things done and proved that his ideas were not outside the realm of possibility. Jobs was notoriously stern, and when it came to his projects, anyone who declared something impossible was handed a pink slip. Yet the benefits of his methodology, to his company and the world, are still visible today.
This push to embrace productive conflict should inspire CEOs. These three quotes will push CEOs to embrace healthy conflict to achieve success:
- “Dialogue is the most effective way of resolving conflict.” — Tenzin Gyatso, the 14th Dalai Lama
Having an effective and fluid communication channel companywide creates a welcoming atmosphere. Where conflicts and tension exist, CEOs and managers should be ready, willing, and able to foster an environment that promotes discussions from every party.
Part of the job includes making and keeping the peace, even if that means playing mediator. People have to know that’s it’s safe to be open and honest in their work environment; fostering this kind of environment will only lead to more efficient conflict resolution.
- “Nobody likes conflict, but sweeping things under the rug ultimately causes more damage than addressing things directly.” —Sharon Rivkin, M.A., M.F.T.
No one likes conflict, but sometimes people feel so strongly about something that conflict is inevitable. When CEOs refuse to address a problem, they are refusing to admit that one exists. When you ignore a problem, it becomes a serious issue and can sometimes cost you more time, effort, and money than it would have had you addressed the situation much sooner.
Plus, when leaders fail to address conflict, your best employees often feel undervalued. Is it worth losing a rock star employee when everything could have been resolved with a 30-minute conversation?
- “If you avoid conflict to keep the peace, you start a war inside yourself.” — Cheryl Richardson, author
You will always know when there is a problem within your organization, but the worst thing any CEO can do is bottle everything up and carry this worry and stress with him or her.
CEOs have profound responsibilities and little time in the day to address any unexpected additions to their schedules. But avoiding a potential blowup within your team or with members of the team will only lead to animosity, stress, and unnecessary time spent later cleaning up an already messy situation.
All companies experience conflict at some point. However, it’s how a CEO addresses that conflict that determines if it can be harnessed to increase productivity and innovation.
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