Very few people embrace conflict. It makes us uncomfortable — so we dodge it whenever possible.
But, as it turns out, conflict can be a good thing for your business. “It can even be great,” says Joel Peterson, chairman of JetBlue Airways, in a recent LinkedIn post.
Peterson says workplace conflict is inevitable; it arises in every office. Employees argue over creative differences; squabble over project ownership; butt heads over political issues; and disagree about budgets.
“It’s just a fact of life — and work. But the difference between conflict in a dysfunctional company and in a high-trust organisation is how people deal with it,” Peterson explains.
He says healthy organisations are often the noisiest. “To outsiders, they may appear conflict-ridden and unable to find a perfect harmony. But inside, leaders are harnessing the different viewpoints and ideas to power progress, to move the agenda forward.” And he says the result is usually a creative, outside-the-box solution.
Peterson says that leaders of high-trust organisations know that building trust is among the countless benefits of tackling disagreements head-on (rather than letting them fester). Though it may feel uncomfortable, being proactive when it comes to dealing with conflicts can “root out fuzzy thinking” and get people used to working through differences and trusting one another, he says.
Here are two ways for managers to convert discord into opportunities for learning and growth:
1. Think like a mediator, not a judge. When conflict arises, make sure all team members are heard. That means being a good, neutral listener. “Before offering feedback, be sure you’ve heard and considered all sides,” Peterson says. “If either party in a conflict walks away steaming with resentment, the whole organisation suffers.” So, while you may instinctively want to exercise the wisdom of a judge, Peterson says you need to aim to reflect the attitude of a mediator. That means instead of assigning fault or picking a side, you should look for “common ground and create win-win solutions.”
2. Don’t let tensions boil over. It’s inevitable that some conversations will end in anger or hurt feelings — especially when people are truly invested in their ideas, Peterson explains. But it’s imperative as a leader that you be mindful of the long term.
When tensions begin to simmer, take a break and pick things up later, Peterson suggests. But be specific about your intentions to continue the conversation so no one is left hanging.
“Conflict happens — in businesses, in charitable organisations, in political parties, and in families,” he concludes. “It means people care about outcomes, and conflict is far better than apathy. So, fostering a culture in which conflict is processed openly is as vital as any habit in the creation of a high-trust culture.”
Read the full LinkedIn post here.
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