Conflict, a noun defined here by the Oxford English dictionary as ‘a serious disagreement or argument’, is a common-place word in the English language and is used in a variety of contexts to describe different types of disputes, disagreements or clashes in beliefs, values, ideas etc.
It’s common to hear conflict being used to describe a war (‘the conflict in Iraq’) on the latest news bulletin, or to read it summarising yet another legal proceeding of some kind (‘conflict of interests’) in one tabloid or another. What is most common though, and often unchanging about this word are the connotations linked to it. Conflict as an notion will generally always conjure up negative images, emotions and scenarios in the minds’ of most people. Why? Well simply put, because conflict can’t ever be a good thing, right? Wrong!
Well, wrong in the sense that my lecturer recently said so, because some books told her so! I know, shocking! Shocking to believe that this word, which for all my life would only ever be used or understood to signal a negative reaction of some kind, can be viewed by anyone as a positive phenomenon.
She had my attention up until this point, but now she had my interest… How was she going to explain this? I just couldn’t imagine ever hearing or reading about conflict without alarm bells sounding in my head.
It turns out, that the issue which acts as the source or catalyst of conflict is apparently neither here nor there according to Buchanan & Huczynski (2010), but controlling and carefully manipulating conflict can lead to positive outcomes, which then in the long-run can mean conflict becomes a positive thing. Get it? I know, it’s a little hard to get your head around at first!
According to Mullins, who writes in his 2005 book ‘Management and Organisational Behaviour’ conflict can be looked at in two distinctly different ways. The traditional view; which encompasses my initial views on the subject, sees conflict as a negative force, which is bad for organisations because of the negative effects produced, often displayed through unnatural and disruptive behaviours by individuals who in turn would traditionally be stopped.
However he goes on to explore conflict as a polar opposite constructive force, characterised as an agent for change, which can energise the workforce and improve performance, resulting in positive outcomes such as better ideas produced, heightened creativity and resolutions to underlying problems previously avoided or left unaddressed.
So, there you have it, conflict isn’t that looming dark cloud of chaos and despair we always thought it was, well not at least according to some of the aforementioned experts on organisational behaviour and management.
Over the coming weeks I’ll be using this blog to explore conflict further, using theoretical models to apply to real-world case studies in an attempt to understand this topic better. Make sure you check back for regular updates, follow me on Twitter here and join in the debate by leaving comments in the comments section of each of my posts.
So for now I leave you with this, can conflict be a positive thing? What are your views? Have you ever benefited from conflict, or do you know of a time where conflict has had a positive result? Let me know, and vote in the poll below too!
In my next post I’ll explore how to maximise conflict and leverage it to achieve full potential in the workplace, but until then don’t forget to give me your thoughts!