Reinventing Organizations – How Conflict can be Healthy

This entry is part 5 of 9 in the series Reinventing Organizations

For many years, I really believed that conflict equaled anger, and that anger led to conflict. I was avoiding conflict as much as possible, mostly because I did not know how to deal with it. Just did not have the skills to properly address conflict and manage anger, mine and others.
But it does not have to always be like that. As a matter of fact, conflict is sometimes inevitable, and can be healthy.

Fredric Laloux, when talking about Evolutionary-Teal organizations in his book, speaks of the importance for companies to be able to deal with conflict.
In fact, Teal Organizations spend significant time and energy training everybody in a number of ground rules that support healthy and productive collaboration. Most of the researched organizations ended up writing down these ground rules in a document.
In short, “the premise is maintained that conflict is inevitable, but that hostile behaviors are not.”

For instance, “Morning Star (note : one of the researched company) says that conflict avoidance remains their major organizational issue. Making that first move to confront someone is hard”. Some organizations, therefore, go one step further and train all their colleagues in interpersonal skills to enable them to deal gracefully with conflict.

Without conflict, we can be over-accommodating or over-protective, and in both cases, we stop being true to ourselves when interacting with colleagues. And because being true to ourselves is at the heart of why those companies are so successful and of how they operate, it is critical that conflict is to be addressed. Precisely because employees are encouraged to « sense and respond » and take initiative when they sense this is the right thing to do, they will “fight” for what they believe is the right thing. How they “fight” depends on how they perceive the situation, .i.e their view of the world.

Let us have a look at what happens at RHD.

This corporation has chosen to operate with several basic assumptions. One of those assumptions is that there are multiple “right” ways or paths we can follow in making decisions, thus there is no one “true” or “absolute” reality. Each person in a situation holds his/her own view of reality, and his/her own perspective about the most effective way to do things. This assumption allows us to recognize that conflict is inevitable and that people will disagree in the workplace. While conflict and difference (or disagreement) are to be expected, explosive or otherwise hostile expressions of anger are not acceptable in RHD. As a member of the RHD community, it is important to be able to do two things:

a) Separate from our own need to be “right” in order to hear and respect others’ realities and perspectives: and,
b) Differentiate between thoughts (what’s going on inside your head) and behaviors (what you do or say).

I find the two steps above to be absolutely key. And how we master them depends, I think, on a few skills one needs to develop and nurture: awareness, discernment, empathy and mindfulness. Always coming back to the same qualities, aren’t we ?
Frederic Laloux mentions that indeed mindfulness practices (or similar forms) are learned and practiced regularly in the companies he researched. Sometimes even at the start of every meeting, as a team practice. Becoming more aware of how we see the world, how we respond to our perceived reality of situations we encounter is certainly not always easy, but can become healthy if companies encourage mindful conflict resolution.

Frederic Laloux offers a few practical “tools” that those companies have developed and use. Some of which we have already discussed on this blog.

At Sounds True, all colleagues have the opportunity to learn a simple three-step process for difficult conversation:
Step 1: Here is how I feel.
Step 2: Here is what I need.
Step 3: What do you need?
The process has become so key to managing interpersonal dynamics at Sounds True that people have to engage with.

At ESBZ, all teachers are trained in Nonviolent Communication, and so are the students.

And you, how do you react when in situations of conflicts at work ? What do you do ?

Series Navigation<< Reinventing Organizations – When everyone is powerfulReinventing Organizations – From Performance Management to Inquiry and Celebration >>

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