Conflict and change coexist

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When you hear the word conflict, it has negative associations with words like argument, war, battle, and disagreement. In reality, conflict should be embraced as being essential to a healthy organization.

The majority of employees (and many supervisors and managers) avoid conflict because of the assumption that conflict is destructive. Conflict is expected and desired when implementing change and continuous improvement.

There are typically three sources of conflict related to change and continuous improvement:

  1. Where we are now (Facts): Even though most people assume that facts speak for themselves, the reality is that different perspectives can cause conflict. Leaders should assume that not everyone will agree by default about the need for change. Build and communicate the need for change by revealing the facts and assumptions.
  2. Where we are heading (Goals): If agreeing on where we are now is hard, imagine building agreement on what the future looks like. At this point leaders can acknowledge that there are many alternatives and that the chosen path is expected to be the best solution.
  3. How to get there (Methods): Even if it possible to gain agreement to number one and two above, there will inevitably be conflict surrounding the method of getting from A to B. Absolute certainty isn’t possible. Leaders should focus on explaining the rationale and then being open to suggestions for continuous improvement. Remain flexible to make changes along the journey.

By embracing conflict related the change, front line supervisors and managers can be a proactive leaders of improvement.