Conflict. Many people will tell you that it has no place at work. Service business owners will do everything they can to avoid conflict and to keep it from happening in their business. Unfortunately, they don’t realize that some conflict – when appropriately handled – is actually a good thing for the business.
Smart employers will understand the different levels of conflict and proactively encourage some conflict in their business (while also managing any conflict to ensure that it doesn’t escalate).
First let me share why conflict can be a good thing:
• Conflict raises questions and challenges the status quo. Instead of doing the same thing all the time, dissenters who conflict with “we’ve-always-done-it-that-way” help us see new and sometimes more efficient ways of working.
• Conflict helps to challenge us by ensuring that we make smart decisions and that we can back them up with facts.
• Conflict even forces us out of our comfort zone and it’s only when we’re outside of our comfort zone that we can grow.
We can take a lesson from nature: Forest fires are the ultimate conflict against an established forest and yet they are good for the forest to clear out deadwood and to help create room for new growth.
That doesn’t mean you should show up to work every day and stir the pot and try to create conflict. (Unfortunately, some business owners choose this as their modus operandi but it’s just a fast way to lose employees). Rather, you should understand what constitutes healthy conflict and unhealthy conflict.
• Healthy conflict is open, honest, straightforward, and based on facts. Everyone shares the same goal (such as: to grow the business and to serve customers better) and the conflict is built around those goals. I would describe this kind of conflict as vigorous debate in which everyone brings their best selves to the table with a desire to understand the truth and to learn.
• Unhealthy conflict is bitter, it escalates quickly, feelings get hurt… and it can even turn to physical conflict. The goal is no longer about how to serve others but rather to prove that you are right. Emotions felt during unhealthy conflict are often anger and bitterness.
Healthy conflict only happens when you build a culture that is open to communication and one in which everyone desires to serve others. So if you want the benefits of healthy communication you have to first build a culture that allows for it.
Once you have that culture, you’ll want to create a regular and SAFE environment where people can gather and discuss ideas without worrying that hurt feelings with destroy morale. Have open company-wide meetings and encourage people to show up prepared but to leave their egos at the door. Incorporate a safe word (we use the word “bamboo” as our team’s safe word) to stop the meeting immediately if healthy conflict starts to turn unhealthy.
Encourage your team to explore new ideas and openly share with others, and encourage your team to receive new ideas and examine them fairly. Train your team to discuss and debate well.
Conflict sounds scary but it doesn’t have to be. In fact, it can be very good for your business when you approach it correctly. If you want to learn more about conflict – how to avoid bad conflict and use good conflict, you can read about it in my book Secrets Of Communication Mastery.