There is a constant wave of “How-To” books, webinars, articles, and presentations being marketed to executives and managers that would have them believe that it is good business practice to do whatever is in their power to minimize or avoid conflict.  The general thinking is that conflict is destructive and employees’ productivity will suffer if conflict is allowed to creep into interactions and exchanges between departments, functions, employees, or even customers and the company.  The reality is something far different.
We Have Irving Janis to Thank
A research psychologist names Irving Janis wanted to study the process of decision-making and how smart, experienced, and expert people individually could occasionally come together and make poor decisions.  He studied some of the decisions of the Kennedy Administration (Bay of Pigs and Space Initiative) and other policy makers and identified that group processes related to conflict avoidance was at the core of some of the most flawed decisions reached.  He did extensive work in the area of “groupthink,” which describes the tendency of some groups to try to minimize conflict and reach consensus without sufficiently testing, analyzing, and evaluating their ideas. His work suggested that pressures for conformity restrict the thinking of the group, bias its analysis, promote simplistic and stereotyped thinking, and stifle individual creative and independent thought.
For most of us, we have a very physical reaction to being in conflict with others.  It is uncomfortable for us and we view confrontation and conflict as undesirable. There are legions of workshops, consultants, and pundits extolling the virtues of ways to achieve “conflict resolution.”  Legions ofPsychologists and Social Workers are gainfully employed to help their clients learn how to properly “confront” others (family, friends, and others). Generally speaking (physical threats aside), the danger from a “good conflict” is rarely negative at all. In fact, it is often exactly what is needed.  So much so, that one of the recommendations Janis makes is to appoint someone to challenge the group’s decision and create conflict just to ensure that the decision can withstand a challenge and truly represents the best thinking of the group.
Conflict is not bad when focused on improvement…
Read the full article here.