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"Where all think alike, no one thinks very much" - Walter Lippmann

Here's a quick pop quiz for you:
True or False: Conflict results from a difference of opinion.

The answer is false. Individual conflicts can have many "surface" causes, but the root of every conflict in your organization arises from differences in values, not opinions.

Understanding key differences can help you overcome a destructive culture of conflict and promote alignment across the organization.

Constructive Conflict Vs. Destructive Conflict

You must remember that despite its connotation, "conflict" is not always a negative. There are two distinct types of conflict we experience in the workplace: Constructive and destructive. Destructive conflict involves a cycle of:
  • Disagreement
  • Defense
  • Destruction

You know destructive conflict when you see it. Two people disagree, they feel the need to defend their position and ultimately, two-way conversation is destroyed. There is no give- and-take, here. Just black and white absolutes of "right" and "wrong."
Constructive conflict, on the other hand looks much different in action. Its cycle involves:
  • Aligning
  • Acting
  • Adjusting

You can see the difference very clearly. By its nature, constructive conflict involves a level of respect that does not exist in destructive conflict. Destructive conflict typically ends up as a downright argument. Constructive conflict allows plenty of room for dialogue, discovery and exchange of ideas.

Are You Fostering A Culture Of Conflict?

A culture of conflict isn't necessarily a bad thing. Constructive conflict can lead to an innovative and collaborative environment. It is a culture of destructive conflict that can lead to dysfunctional, stifling environments.

You can determine your conflict culture by observing the daily interactions of yourself and those around you. Are you seeing a consecutive culture of inclusion, of curiosity, of questioning, of healthy debate? Or do you see a destructive culture of declarative statements, of hard-and-fast positions, and the idea that someone must always be right and someone must always be wrong?

From there, you must set the standards of acceptable behavior. Conflict can be healthy, but nobody can flourish in an environment that only tolerates absolutes.

In Constructive Conflict, Alignment Is Non-Negotiable

Achieving constructive conflict is about values alignment. People in conflict don't have to agree on every detail, but they do have to align their values. That requires the ability to have an open discussion that involves give-and-take and ultimately results in one or all parties taking constructive action so that everyone can begin pulling in the same direction.

There will be times, however, when alignment simply cannot be achieved. This does not mean that one person is right or wrong, nor does it mean that a person has inherent personality flaws. It simply means that those parties cannot work together. When alignment is out of reach, either the person will leave the organization, meaning they quit; or the organization leaves the person, meaning they get fired. Neither situation can be defined as an absolute bad outcome. In fact, it can be very positive for both the organization and the individual. If alignment cannot be achieved, and people must go their separate ways, look at it as "freeing their future." They will be on the path to finding an opportunity in an organization where they can find values alignment.

Conflict is something we cannot avoid, but a culture of constructive conflict can promote a healthy and collaborative environment where values align, and everyone on the team is pulling in the same direction.


Larry Hart

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