Reaping Benefits From Our Differences

Remove barriers through essential conflict resolution processes

Communication skills. Leadership abilities. Emotional and social intelligence. Today, organizations expect a lot from us – both as individuals and team members. Communication proficiency is crucial because it immediately affects our ability to get work done together and thus reach demanding goals.

Thrive on Disagreement
Counter-intuitive perhaps, but conflict – about truly important issues – can actually be beneficial in the workplace. I am referring to the kind of conflict that comes from contrary ideas of substance, not mere personality or style differences. In fact, negative reactions generally emerge from how we express and handle our personal diversity, not the variations themselves.

The conflict may arise because one of the best ways to stimulate creative juices is by rubbing your mind against others’ to produce new and improved concepts and procedures. As differences emerge, we need serviceable conflict resolution skills to manage them well. Then our organization flourishes, not despite the differences but because of them. This process is called “creative abrasion” and “fruitful dissent”.*

Only through sharing differing opinions, beliefs, experiences and goals can any group of people exceed their individual boundaries. Organizations – boards, teams, whole companies – who create ways to make the most of their diversity share a variety of essential characteristics*, such as having common goals firmly in place; basing discussion on facts rather than opinion; developing a wide range of options instead of just a few alternatives, and ensuring everyone feels comfortable speaking up. Not least among the common elements is humour; teams that can lighten up and let off steam among the whole group are also able to disagree, respectfully.

Create Positive Outcomes
Each of us has the power to select our response to people and circumstances. In fact, humans are the only beings on the planet able to separate stimulus from response to choose a reaction: in what manner will we engage, speak, listen, hear, interpret and respond? Our choices shape the outcome of our interactions and create an effect, either positive or negative.

At the most basic level, just the discovery of a different point of view can enable us to see something that had not occurred to us individually. Through sharing ideas openly, focused on what a person’s ideas have to offer – not his or her personality – we are able to generate fewer problems and greater benefits than any one of our preferences might have produced on its own.

Reap the Benefits
Understanding your own and others’ communication and conflict styles can help you to master the strategy of “creative abrasion”, and produce benefits for your organization. For teams, this means increased capacity to manage differences productively; for the organization, it means greater creativity and innovation from the members’ enhanced abilities.

*    How Management Teams Can Have a Good Fight”; Kathleen M. Eisenhardt, Jean L. Kahwajy, L.J. Bourgeois III; Harvard Business Review, July-Aug 1997.
*      “Putting Your Company’s Whole Brain to Work”, Dorothy Leonard and Susaan Straus; Harvard Business Review, July-August 1997
Copyright(c) 2015 Carol J. Sutton Cert.ConRes.