Profit in Conflict

by Penny Steen

There is good conflict and then there’s bad conflict. The first one gets resolved; the second one doesn’t. For years, bad conflict ensured good conflict couldn’t earn a dime, never mind a profit. But things are turning around. Figuratively and in real dollars, good conflict is generating hefty returns both in business and at home. And it’s achieving those results with very little initial outlay.

In business, good conflict brings to light situations that have long been concealed or left unattended. Some examples are products that don’t fit the client’s needs; ineffective marketing strategies for the global marketplace; unrealistic sales targets; or the lack of honest discussion throughout the organization. However, the problem with having a problem is that it requires solving and for that, you need people who can think creatively and can disagree without being disagreeable.

A 2010 survey from IBM’s Institute for Business Value, shows that business leaders around the world are declaring creativity as the most important leadership competency required for the ever-evolving complex global marketplace. And as good conflict requires creativity in order to solve problems and prompt innovation, and as innovation produces productivity and therefore profit, people who know how to creatively use conflict are going to move organizations forward.

Good conflict also improves personal ties. A few weeks ago, I had the privilege of watching a client (who had recently attended a conflict management workshop) handle a conflict with his wife who is a partner in their business. When the issue surfaced she tensed, ready for battle. The client (who told me afterward he had long blamed her as the source of the problem), then suggested the two of them brainstorm to see how they could resolve things. She needled him a couple of times as if to test his authenticity, but he shrugged it off. After ten minutes, the contentious issue that had stood between them for thirteen years was lip-smacking (yes, literally) resolved.

I like a good conflict …even though I don’t always conduct myself well. For instance, if I’ve slid into thinking I’m right, or am refusing to look at things from the other person’s perspective, that kind of flawed thinking soon becomes evident…even to me. And I’m reminded my real job is not to prove myself right or smarter but to be open, creative, innovative, and therefore productive. Because that’s the only way I, you, all of us can truly profit.


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