Confronting conflict head-on is one of the hardest things an organization will ever do. To do so, executives must first puncture the many myths that exist about conflict. Most people believe that conflict is caused by contentious peoplecongenital malcontents who cannot or will not change; that teamwork requires a conflict-free environment; that people cannot separate disagreements over business issues from personal attacks; and that confronting another person or group always leaves bad feelings. But not one of these myths addresses a fundamental truth about conflict: It is and always will be.
Conflict must be brought out into the open and confronted. Left alone, elephant heads will rot and contaminate the organization's performance. John Doumani, president-international, Campbell Soup, put it best:
In every organization, the important business issues are talked about behind closed doors, in the corridors, and in other places where senior management can't hear. It worries me when you meet to discuss an issue and everyone says, "Yes, yes," then walks down the corridor whispering, "That was a bunch of nonsense ; it will never work." They are whispering because they fear that if they say it out loud, their heads will roll. What every company needs to do is make it okay for those corridor conversations to happen in the formal environment: in the meeting rooms and in the boardroom. Because, inevitably, those corridor conversations tend to be right. To do so, senior management must constantly reinforce , and demonstrate , that it's okay to raise those issues, that in fact it's obligatory to do soand that you are a "player" if you do.
Effective executives like Doumani take conflict out of the closet and treat its resolution as an opportunity to build deeper, more productive business relationships. The key issue is how to put disagreements on the table so that the executives involved can work toward the best resolution without destroying relationships. Resolving this issue is the key challenge, which the remainder of this book will address.