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"Everyone is in the people business. Name me a line of work where people aren’t involved.” – Dr Mac, Have a Nice Conflict
With this sentence the authors of newly-released best-selling leadership book, Have a Nice Conflict, get at the heart of why conflict exists in business. Business, at its core, is all about people and relationships. It’s been that way since the beginning of time.
Personal v professional conflict
We accept conflict as part of our personal relationships. With family, friends and in romantic relationships, mature adults know that conflict presents opportunities to better understand each other and to see a relationship grow to a new level. It can be productive and relationship-enhancing when addressed properly, with respect.
It’s when conflict is avoided that relationships suffer. Issues that get “swept under the rug” eat away at the connections that enable personal relationships to thrive. In business, conflict that is avoided eats away at the connections that enable businesses to prosper.
At the heart of conflict
Have a Nice Conflict is a fable in which the reader is immersed in the life of John Doyle, a sales executive who is successful at hitting his sales targets but who is losing the best performers on his team because they don’t like working for him. As a result, he is passed over for a promotion three times, and finds himself finally facing the reality that he struggles with the “soft skills” of dealing with people. Does this sound like anyone you know?
John is fortunate to be connected to Dr Mac who eloquently states upon their first meeting: “They say the soft stuff is harder than the hard stuff.” How true this is. When my blog readers sign up to receive my newsletter, I ask them what the biggest leadership challenge is that they’re facing. Virtually every answer I receive is about the challenges of leading people. I see the words manipulation, frustration, emotionally involved, personal, commitment, accountability, dissatisfaction, and others like these on a regular basis.
So why is dealing with people so difficult?
"Because,” as Doyle realises in the book, “we have no idea what’s going on inside their head.” As a result, we watch what people do, but don’t necessarily know why they do it. As Dr Mac goes on to say: “We can see their behaviour, but it’s more worthwhile to understand their reason for using the behavior – their intent or motivation.”
Just as the employees in this post about a CEO’s unintended consequences of joining LinkedIn mistakenly thought his motivation for joining was to find a new job, we sometimes make assumptions about the motivation behind our team members’ or managers' behaviour. As Mac further explains: “Behaviours are the tools we choose and use to support our self-worth…our underlying motivation or set of values. Those things that make us feel good about ourselves and make us feel that we’re contributing.”
But, our behaviors can damage our relationships if we don’t give thought to how we use them. As Mac asks John: “Does using a strength that’s easy for you but ends up damaging a relationship with an important person in your life help you reach your goals quicker?”
The authors of the book assert that “People are most effective when they choose a strength that enhances the self-worth of others while helping them achieve their own goals – their own self-worth.”
So, why is conflict good for productivity in business?
If handled well and with the brilliant insights of the book, conflict presents us the opportunity to better understand the motivations behind our colleagues’ behaviours. The better we understand their motivations – and what moves them to conflict in the first place – the more likely we can prevent conflict in the future. And the prevention of conflict, consistently over time, will lead to higher productivity – and prosperity – in business.