We write extensively about the topic of conflict in the Humanize book. Granted, that is my professional background (I actually did a master’s degree in conflict analysis and resolution from George Mason University twenty years ago). But our coverage of conflict is not merely an excuse to write about a topic that I know and love. We were very conscious about emphasizing the importance of conflict in human organizations.
Remember, we started writing the book because we felt the need to identify principles that would help organizations be more successful in this new, social world. This is a world that is more decentralized, that lets many more individuals in the system take “ownership” over their job (which means taking action). The more action that is taken, the more conflicts are generated. This is a world where we actively include more difference. This is implied as you decentralize, but we also do it intentionally in order to create an environment more conducive to innovation. Difference, as you might imagine, brings conflict with it. This is a world where truth is valued and expected more, and when people speak their truth, more conflict emerges. In short, in a social world, you’ll need to deal with conflict.
This is a problem, because in general, we suck at conflict. I’ve been working in organizations around this issue for more than a decade, and overall we are very bad at having conflict conversations and tend to turn away from them. We do our conflict half way, which typically only makes it worse in the long run. Or we turn a blind eye to it and let it fester until it gets really out of control.
You can’t run a social business that way. When you have lots of ownership behavior, people will step on each other’s toes, and you have to have the capacity internally to deal with that conflict. People need to be skilled at pushing back against each other and giving each other clear feedback, without it shutting the conversation down. If you put in place processes that enable people to experiment and try new things, then your people will need to be good at negotiating and problem solving. They can’t just advocate for their preferred answer–they need to know how to work with others who see it differently to jointly solve the problem and find a way forward.
Human organizations are beautiful things, but they have that real-world beauty, not fashion-shoot beauty. Open, trustworthy, generative, and courageous sound like fairly lofty ideas–and they are aspirational–but make no mistake, they require some real-world grit and determination to achieve. They don’t look good just for the sake of looking good. They are the beautiful result of hard work like facing conflict, confronting truth, and forging clarity.
Are you ready?