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The Bright Side of Workplace Conflict
Published on Jan 27, 2011
Read 'The Bright Side of Workplace Conflict' at 'Time to Start Up,' the small business blog by BizFilings.
Are you a small-business owner dealing with workplace confilct?
A study on workplace conflict commissioned by Myers-Briggs publishers CPP, Inc. reveals you are not alone. In fact, it found that U.S. employees spent 2.8 hours per week dealing with conflict in 2008. At an average hourly pay of $17.95, that's $359 billion spent each year by U.S. businesses on dealing with conflict.
That's terrible, of course, because conflict is a bad thing.
Not necessarily, says Jeffrey Sonnenfeld of Yale. Sonnenfeld's work examining business communications strongly suggests that the difference between an effective board of directors and an ineffective one is the level of conformity among the members of the board. And it doesn't go the direction you might think.
Those boards that punish dissent and stress unity often wind up in bad business patterns. Contrary to common sense, it is corporations with highly contentious boards that are most successful. These are the boards where a wide range of viewpoints will be heard and tough questions asked about the prevailing orthodoxy. All ideas must withstand a withering crossfire of challenge so the bad has a chance of being recognized and avoided.
Corporations with boards in which conformity was prized and dissent punished include Tyco, WorldCom, and Enron.
Conflict is a situation in which your opinions, desires, or goals are different from those of another person or group, and you both care enough to advocate for your positions. Differing opinions enrich possibilities and avoid "groupthink," the tendency of individual in a group to adopt the opinions of the majority.
Whether you are running a small business or part of a larger corporation, steering clear of tense or even heated discussions does not ensure the best result. To get the best contributions from all participants, explicitly state that team members are expected to express their opinions freely, and that not all good processes follow a straight line.
Not all conflict is productive, of course. If conflict is ongoing or lapses into violence of any kind (physical, verbal, or emotional) or is disruptive to the workplace, it's in everyone's best interest to get a handle on it quickly.
Toolkit.com offers a number of excellent articles on dealing with conflict that boils over:
Preventing and Handling FightingCreating a Policy on Fighting Handling a Violent Incident