Businesses require conflict to function. And conflict takes many shapes and sizes: delegating a task to a colleague, choosing who to promote, etc. These are essential to day-to-day operating functions, yet we often dread and run from conflict. This creates conflict debt.
Like most debts, conflict debt will get paid, but often it’s paid by those who don’t have the context to make an informed decision.
For example, consider that you’re a CEO for a retail company. Your CMO wants to collect demographic data on your shoppers and your CFO wants shoppers to sign up for credit cards. Instead of choosing one, you say yes to both, leaving your sales staff on the front-lines to make an uninformed decision on what to collect – they know your shoppers will not fill out a survey AND apply for a credit card. And all of this was because you didn’t want to tell your CMO or CFO that what they wanted was not a priority at that time.
Conflict debt erodes at organizations, because it erodes the trust your people have in your business. Coworkers count on each other to make hard decisions and deal with conflict. When it isn’t dealt with, it leads to higher burnout rates, greater turnover, lack of innovation, etc.
But conflict gets a bad rep. Many see conflict as the antithesis of teamwork, when in reality conflict is what makes teams. What is the point of a team if everyone is going the same way and there is no diversity of thought?
Think of a team of people pulling a tarp across a tent. They’re all trying to accomplish one thing – keep the tent from getting wet – and everyone is pulling in opposite directions to accomplish this goal. If a team member pulls too hard (e.g. is more powerful, is a loudmouth), then someone will get hurt. And people “let go” of their rope because they’re exhausted, they don’t feel heard, etc.
So how do you create productive conflict? It’s a team effort. Ask everyone on your team to identify what their unique “ropes” are:
Doing this will allow you to experience conflict as a role-based tension instead of a friction (an interpersonal experience).
For more info, read on here: https://hbr.org/2013/12/conflict-strategies-for-nice-people