John Stancavage: Conflict can have good outcome
BY JOHN STANCAVAGE World Business Editor
Sunday, December 09, 2012
12/09/12 at 3:39 AM
Conflict is unavoidable in organizations, but it doesn't always have to be negative.
Disagreements, if handled the right way, actually can spur new ideas and help groups make better decisions. I've seen this fairly often on nonprofit boards.
Too often, though, conflict is played out by people seeking to intimidate one another and win an argument, rather than being part of a more constructive process.
Dysfunctional conflict usually ends with the winner gloating and the loser limping away to lick his or her wounds.
"It's like in football - the quarterback knows he's going to be hit," said Kevin Kennemer, founder of The People Group, a Tulsa-based human resources consulting firm. "But when the defensive back knocks the quarterback down, he shouldn't stand over him afterward and celebrate."
Kennemer recently was part of a panel discussion on resolving conflict at a joint meeting of the Oklahoma Business Ethics Consortium and the local chapter of the Public Relations Society of America.
Businesses with leaders who don't allow constructive conflict usually are less productive and innovative than groups that stress healthy discussions, he said.
"At the former, employees spend all their time being afraid," he said. "They can't focus on the projects at hand."
District 9 City Councilor G.T. Bynum, another panel member, said one good strategy to handle conflict is to get out ahead of it.
That's the approach he and other city leaders took when starting their recent terms.
Since the previous City Council had a contentious relationship that inhibited action, the new members wanted to see if they could get along better.
"The week after we were sworn in, we got together and each made a list of our goals," Bynum said. "Then we compared lists.
"Anything we disagreed on, we crossed off. At the end, there were 16 things we all wanted. So we've spent the past year trying to accomplish those things rather than fighting about the other stuff."
Gary Richetto, president of the Triad Associates consulting firm, said it is healthier to have conflicts than not - as long as the participants remain respectful of each other.
Melissa Clark, another panel member, agreed.
"Trust is at the heart of all communications," said Clark, who works for WPX Energy. "If the other person doesn't trust you, then he or she is not going to hear what you are saying."
Kennemer suggested having new employees sign a document outlining some "rules of engagement." This exercise quickly communicates a company's culture, he said.
Among the rules suggested by Kennemer:
Most of all, Kennemer said, a lot of conflict could be avoided by following one simple rule.
- I will be nice and listen to others.
- I will act with integrity.
- I will present an exhaustive list of solutions to problems.
- I will be transparent.
"Don't be a jerk," he said.