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Conflict is a Canary for Change


Conflict in your organization is actually an early indicator that change is imminent, necessary - or happening around you whether you want it or not.

Are you intimidated by, or afraid of, conflict in your organization? Maybe it’s just a signal that something else is going on.

Recently, I got into a discussion on the best response to conflict in the workplace – what should the people on the team do? What should a good leader do? The nature of the “conflict” was not really the point – I mean, if folks are tossing chairs around the room, that’s a whole different story. No, this was the more benign stuff – passive resistance, strong words in meetings, upset conversations in private, formalized complaints.

While listening to one particular thread, I was taking notes of my own thoughts, and one observation caught my ear – the idea that this conflict is going on during times of great change. Change comes from many directions – internally sourced (as teams are built up and disbanded, and strategies and tactics come and go), and externally generated (as markets, customers, and channels shift and flow). And like most organizations, some compelling stuff was hitting the proverbial fan.

Conflict – from personalities & agendas, confusion & doubt, or creative energy & newfound flexibility – seems a necessary part of the change process. Change, of course, can be a great thing – an enabler of greatness, a purposeful intent, a necessary response. Conflict, one might observe, can also be a good thing; an indicator that your change efforts are proceeding.

But what if we’re not changing – and this conflict stuff seems to be popping up more than in the past? Well, maybe there is something going on that you don’t know about, or aren’t aware of. Maybe conflict in your organization is actually a canary in your particular coal mine – an early indicator that change is imminent, necessary – or happening around you whether you want it or not.

By all means, manage the conflict in your team and your organization – but don’t stifle it; there could be some interesting signals coming your way.

Take a step back, and ponder a moment.

8 September, 2015

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