A results driven organization is typically led by managers and supervisors out to minimize downside risk, maximize upside shareholder value and drain all the unique out of the pond called their product.
Consequences, results if you will, are inherently unknowable, and many organizational leaders, cognizant of that fact, seek to either avoid or accommodate employee disputes. They typically do this by handing off the responsibility to professionals in the human resources department, but then they do not empower these individuals to make real changes.
Because, that would be risky.
The paradox of risk in conflict is that if an organizational leader does nothing, it might get worse, or it might “go away;” and, if an organizational leader does something—anything—it might get worse and not go away.
This perception of leadership as a spot to squat was never an okay position to take, but many leaders are encultured and trained through looking and role modeling, and if organizational leaders have never done more than avoid or accommodate risk, future leaders will do the same.
The inability to take on a risky conversation, a risky conflict scenario, or even a risky business decision, defines many organizational environments and outcomes. There are two solutions to this:
Recognize that what’s underneath all of that risk is fear—fear is a powerful drive of conflict, but it’s also a powerful driver of attacking, accommodating or avoiding conflict. Most of the time, directness in communication is associated with courage because there is so little organizational courage. It’s not courageous to engage in a high-risk, highly emotional, conflict conversation, if you as an organizational leader are not “built” to handle it. It’s more courageous to say “I can’t handle it” and hand it off to someone in the organization who can.
Build an antifragile culture in your organization—antifragility builds on accepting the idea that there will be organizational conflict wherever there are two or more people. After that’s accepted, then comes the material fact of acknowledging that the culture has to build around, not managing the conflict through avoiding, accommodating or attacking, but through addressing, engaging and communicating assertively about the material facts and emotional content of conflicts. The last part of developing an atifragile ethic in an organization involves engaging with emotional labor in a meaningful way and figuring out how to recognize and reward that labor in an organization, beyond a once-a-year, alcohol-fueled bash.
Ultimately, the question that leaders both avoiding, accommodating and attacking risky conflict scenarios, and engaging with them effectively, is the same question:
What kind of conflicts do we want to have in our organization?
-Peace Be With You All-
Jesan Sorrells, MA
Principal Conflict Engagement Consultant
Human Services Consulting and Training (HSCT)
Email HSCT: firstname.lastname@example.org