Dealing with conflict in corporate America is a problem of extremes.  Ineffective leaders either use confrontation and bullying as weapons to beat employees down, or they mandate conflict-free zones.  Both extremes suppress effective disagreement, drive opposition underground and create toxic environments. To read the rest of this article from the New Mexico Business Weekly, see: No-conflict workplace won't resolve problems:  Anger goes underground when it's avoided

While bullying bosses are recognized problems, the cancerous effects of no-conflict zones usually fester unnoticed until they metastasize. In the quest to be respectful of people’s feelings, ineffective leaders have covered up problems or rushed to easy, token resolutions.  They have abandoned the most effective tools for creating innovation and improvement - challenge and opposition that promotes creativity and brings out the best efforts of worthy staff.  Conflict-avoidant managers cannot be effective leaders.

The problem is not disagreement; the problem is escalation – in either direction. The challenge for leaders is to find the sweet spot between the extremes.  The key to success is the fundamental agreement to use the opposing forces for the common good while preventing escalation.

One organization I worked with had decreed there would be no emotional responses or disagreement. Everyone was required to be calm, sweet, kind and reasonable in public.  Disagreement was hidden behind closed doors and, even then, had to be circumspect and cloaked in appreciation and praise.  There were very strict communication formulas, ostensibly so no one’s feelings would ever be hurt.  Not only were sticks and stones forbidden, but also honest words.

Typical of such poisonous situations, overt channels of responsibility, authority and accountability had become shams. A small clique of the most difficult and manipulative people used their hypersensitivity to control the organization behind the scenes.  The best games-players intrigued to make decisions in their own best interests.  Quality employees started leaving.

Apposition is a better word than opposition to describe passionate disagreement that promotes the greater good. Your opposable thumb and forefinger often appose by pushing against each other hard so you can pick up your pencil and get to work.  Apposition creates opportunity and promotes success.

If disagreement has been suppressed, the initial steps in transforming a toxic culture will seethe with emotion. Pay the price and move through the flare up.

You don’t need to initiate angry confrontations in order to be clear and firm about standards of productivity, quality or behavior.  But if the other person wants to start a fight or throw a fit, effective leaders learn to deal with emotionally charged interactions rapidly and effectively.

Conflict is nothing to be afraid of - appreciate and respect worthy opponents who bring out the best in both of you.

The best leaders seek areas of disagreement and challenge. Emotion, challenge and disagreement power the engine of leadership.  To drive success, moderate and direct that fuel appropriately.

Often, individuals need coaching and organizations need consulting to help them design and implement a plan that fits the situation.  To get the help you need, call Ben at 1-877-828-5543.


AuthorBen Leichtling