The Two Faces of Conflict

The biggest misconception that people hold about conflict is that it is intrinsically bad. But conflict in and of itself is an inevitable social and organizational reality. Whether one subscribes to the Bible or to Freud, conflict is rooted in the human condition and is not necessarily an indicator of dysfunction. It just is .

It is true that conflict is destructive when it:

  • Leads to a win/lose game where one side wins at the other's expense

  • Diverts energy from important activities or issues

  • Destroys people's morale

  • Polarizes groups and reduces cooperation

  • Deepens differences

  • Produces irresponsible/regrettable behavior (i.e., personal attacks)

  • Leads to stalemates rather than decisions

Conflict, however, has another side that is often overlooked. Remember the old advertisement featuring near-mythic body-builder Charles Atlas? He built an impressive physique through a process called" dynamic tension," which puts muscle against muscle. In the same way, the dynamic tension that results when executives go head-to-head can be a source of great creativity, excitement, and even strength. It can help an organization to develop the muscle it needs to vanquish less well-endowed competitors .

Takeo Fujisawa, cofounder of the Honda Motor Company, understood the positive role that conflict plays in keeping an organization vital :

I like Bartok and Stravinsky. It's a discordant sound ”and there are discordant sounds inside a company. As president, you must orchestrate the discordant sounds into a kind of harmony. But you never want too much harmony. One must cultivate a taste for finding harmony within discord, or you will drift away from the forces that keep a company alive . [3]

Fujisawa believed strongly that examining and accepting differences is healthy , beneficial, and necessary. Probing management disagreements can spur effective problem solving and be a boon for creating strategic and operational decision making. Sharing competing viewpoints shapes and sharpens action as it opens up thinking to new possibilities. Conflict keeps a company alive ”and flourishing ”when it:

  • Stimulates healthy interaction and involvement in accomplishing a task

  • Opens up issues of importance

  • Strengthens team spirit and generates commitment to group goals

  • Results in greater understanding

  • Helps to build cohesiveness

  • Helps individuals to grow

  • Results in better solutions to a problem

  • Improves the quality of a group's work

Whether conflict works for or against an organization, shores it up or undermines its foundation, depends on one and only one thing: how it is managed .

[3] Richard Pascale Tanner, Managing on the Edge: How the Smartest Companies Use Conflict to Stay Ahead (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1990), p. 256.

When Goliaths Clash. Managing Executive Conflict to Build a More Dynamic Organization
When Goliaths Clash: Managing Executive Conflict to Build a More Dynamic Organization
ISBN: 0615198686
EAN: 2147483647
Year: 2002
Pages: 99

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