Monday, November 19, 2012

Conflict, Change and Stagnation

Last week I asked what people's perception of these three terms were. (I asked my followers on Facebook - join the conversation here)
Overwhelmingly the response was that all three: conflict, change, and stagnation, were negative.
I completely understand why the perception is that they are negative but let's delve a bit further.

Conflict is essentially about opposition. It might be conflict in the Middle East that is war or it might be trying to decide between two apples in the grocery store; which apple is better?
Conflict in the workplace may be as simple as a difference of opinion on what coffee to buy or as complex as what the organization is doing right or wrong.

Many years ago conflict was presented to me as the motivation for learning.
In these terms conflict is internal for each of us.
What inspires you to go look something up?..........for me I'd say it is because I find it unsettling to not know (this is my conflict), so I go find out. Once I find the indisputable information I can relax - I have no conflict (well about that particular issue).

In organizations, conflict can be damaging and it can be beneficial. It all depends on how 'conflict' is treated. I know we have all been in tense situations at work because we don't agree with someone or something, but we must remain silent.  Disagreeing isn't acceptable/tolerated/or allowed.
Clearly in these settings conflict is a negative. It causes internal stress, angst and has no positive value.

However if it was OK to safely discuss ideas - even conflicting ideas - perhaps change could occur, positive change.
Great things are typically born of conflict, it leads to discussion, debate, collaboration and invention.

But wait, you say, everything is just fine as it is.
"Why reinvent the wheel?"
Well because there are new innovations that might be an improvement.
"But it will cause me conflict - I am used to doing things a certain way - I don't want to learn a new way."
We all know people that refuse to move forward, are you one?

Although he isn't as successful as he once was, I am reminded of Tiger Woods who at the peak of his career decided to make a swing change. This is a huge undertaking for a golfer and one that can derail a career. He was asked why he wanted to make a radical change when he was so successful with his current swing. His response was that he was as good as he could be with THAT swing, however he believed he could be better and to be better he had to adopt a new swing.
His conflict was that he believed he had the ability to be better than he was, he wasn't good enough in his eyes. He realized he had reached a plateau, so he changed. Even though his game did suffer initially and it was really hard work he stuck with it. In the end he did emerge better than he had been before.

The concepts of conflict and change apply to businesses, individuals, teams, and relationships. Whether it seems that 'everything is just fine' or it is clear that things aren't fine, having an avenue to safely discuss conflict which creates the opportunity for change (improvement) is a very good thing.

Without conflict there is no change; without change there is stagnation.

To stagnate is to cease motion, activity, or progress; to come to rest; to cease to advance or change; to become idle or cease to flow. Think stagnant pond.

No way that's a good thing, so change must be good :)
And since conflict is the precursor of change, it must be a good thing too!

I hope I have created conflict with regard to your beliefs about conflict and change!