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5 reasons you should embrace conflicts



conflict (Photo credit: verbeeldingskr8)

First off, to make sure everyone is one the same page, by “Conflict“, I’m referring to a disagreement, and not a “fight” or something like that.

Here is the definition from Wikipedia:

Conflict refers to some form of friction, disagreement, or discord arising within a group when the beliefs or actions of one of more members of the group are either resisted by or unacceptable to one or more members of another group.

Conflicts, when managed properly, become vital to teamwork and projects, so it’s important to keep them coming, and not avoid them. Obviously, it can have a negative impact if you let it get out of control, but let’s focus on the positive here.

Creates or finds the best ideas

Typical conflicts in IT projects would be the balance between design and programming; designers will tend to prioritize the visual aspect, and developers, the functional aspect. Generally, concentrating on only one aspect is not the best option for a project, you always have to take everything into consideration, which is why a “clash” of ideas between visual and functional can bring out the best idea that no one would have found on their own.

It’s by discussing and challenging other’s ideas that the team gets a creativity boost. By avoiding the conflict and taking only one colleague’s side, you skip the chance to find those ideas.

Of course, there can be conflicts of any kind; design VS programming is just one example amongst many others.

Improves teamwork and communication

If conflicts are managed correctly, the team will develop a sense of camaraderie when communicating disagreements. Instead of going on the defense, they will become more and more open, they will learn to trust their colleagues, and even start having fun when they disagree.

It’s normal to notice that when a team just formed, conflicts start off less efficient; as the team go through the different stages of team building, it will improve. It’s important to manage each stage accordingly.

I used to have a colleague (artistic director) who was more focused on the design (obviously), and I have a developer’s background, so I tended to focus more on the functional aspect of a project. When it came to meetings where we validated a project’s design before it would be sent to the client, we always had several conflicting opinions. Although at first it used to be more of a debate to win, it became cooperative discussions on how to meet the other half way, for the best of the project of course. The results were always greater than if we only took one’s idea as-is.

Improves one’s efficiency

I’ll use my example above once again. My colleague and I started off each more focused on one aspect of the project; as time went by, and we did many projects together, we became more easily aware of the other aspects we used to neglect. By opening our minds to the other’s ideas, we became able to find new ideas on our own, before any conflict even rose. We developed new reflexes, and learned more and more as we communicated.

My point here is that we each evolved with the other’s knowledge and ideas. It helped me concentrate more on the visual aspect of projects, and for him, he could design his interfaces with the functional aspect more in mind generally resulting in less changes in his design when we spoke. Furthermore, conflicts were actually less and less present, and at some point, conflicts really just became simple discussions.

Makes sure everyone as a say

In every team, some have more “strength” when it comes to affirming their opinion or selling it. What happens, whether everyone wants it or not, is that their ideas seem more important or better, and are more prone to being use, even if it may not be the best idea.

By having a team environment where conflict are well-managed and accepted, people will be more comfortable sharing their opinion instead of letting the others talk.

Indicates something is wrong

If people disagree on something, that means that something may not be clear enough, or several solutions are available and the best one must be used. Either way, it suggests that your attention is required, and a decision must be taken.

If their were no conflict, it would mean that only one true path is available all the time, and no problems whatsoever are present; that wouldn’t be much fun 🙂

In conclusion

Conflicts have positive outcome when managed correctly. It can easily become negative, es

pecially when the team is new, so it’s important to keep that in mind.If you have any stories related to conflicts, please share!

2 thoughts on “5 reasons you should embrace conflicts

  1. And how do you actually manage conflicts?

    You state five reasons why situations of disagreement should be welcomed and not avoided on the presumption that if conflicts are “managed correctly”, then opportunities and benefits arise.

    While I do agree with this, I’d be more interested in learning about your ways of settling conflicts between team members, managers and other stakeholders. Here are some topics right off the top of my head:

    The manager’s position as a conflict-solver – Do you act as the mediator and arbiter between conflicting parties right away, or do you let them attempt to solve their issue by themselves and step in only as a last resort? Do you let that stance evolve along your team’s maturity and experience, or do you favor sticking to one of these two poles?

    Choosing who “wins” and who “loses” – What about resolving conflicts which must ultimately end in you, the manager, taking to one side or the other? While situations where compromises are the best option do exist, sometimes, the project leader must choose between Solution A from Developer A and Solution B from Developer B. In which circumstances would you take the decision yourself, and how would you justify it to the “losing” party? In which other circumstances would you instead open up the conflict to the whole team and seek a democratic decision?

    • Do not worry, writing tips on how to manage conflicts is coming soon! I felt important that people understand it should be embraced it before they read how to do it.

      Nevertheless, let me give you a brief answer. What’s important to keep in mind is that every situation is unique (decision to take, the project, the colleagues, etc.). You must never ever stick to the same “process or “procedure” to resolve conflicts, and instead adapt to what’s in front of you. That is probably the biggest challenge when resolving conflicts. It’s not always easy, and sometimes you may have to figure out your tactic within 2 seconds!

      This means that you may have to arbiter a conflict, or let it resolve on it’s own; that all depends of your colleagues and how the situation is in front of you. If you see that the conflict is turning in circles, or that people are getting irritated, step in right away as the good guy who wants everyone to be friends! On the other hand, if you always resolve everything and never let your team do it, you create a dependency which may not be beneficial to the team.

      Will there always be a magical solution mixed with everyone’s opinion? No! So it will often happen that you will have to take someone’s side. What’s important is to make sure you don’t actually take someone side but instead that you select the best option and that must be obvious to everyone, so to help with that, explain your choice so that the others understand your point of view. You want to avoid people thinking to prefer someone’s answers as it can create tension in a team, and you don’t want that.

      To answer you last questions: As a PM, you should most of time take all the decisions and the team will know that, so coming to you when a conflict rises should be a reflex (I hope). If not, then by communicating often with the team, you will find out and take action. As for a democratic solution, I have to admit I’ve never used that to make any decisions whatsoever in all my career. This results in using what most prefer, leaving the minority (which can still be up to 49%) not satisfied. A decision must be based on judgement, facts, and predicted outcome, therefore, it’s important that everyone understands the reasons behind a decision, and not just having to tolerate that the majority selected another option. I do feel that this is my opinion on the matter, and it’s greatly debatable, but except for brainstorming purposes, I’ve never used any kind of voting to make decisions.

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