The Right Way to Fight
By Adil Wali , 20th Oct 2010
Product Management

The term ‘conflict’ typically carries with it negative connotation.  But it’s something I have been thinking a lot about lately, and I feel like conflict is not necessarily a bad thing.  As our company continues to grow at a very rapid trajectory, there are lots of new faces, roles, and even whole organizations.  Managing the responsibilities and roles during the growth has been a challenge, to say the least.  The reality, however, is that friction in this kind of situation is unavoidable.  I’d even go as far as to take that a step further.  I am not sure I want to avoid it.  I think that open and healthy dialogue about disagreements can be a good thing.

I was happy to see that my thoughts on the topic of conflict were seconded by many authorities in the management arena. There is a fascinating book titled: “The Right Fight”, which espouses the belief that conflict is a welcome element in any organization. The authors have coined the term “productive dissent”, which is essentially harnessing the power of well organized and respectful debate.

Don’t be afraid to pick the ‘right fight’

For most people, including myself, the last thing we desire is an argument. However, when working in a collaborative environment, some level of conflict is unavoidable. The key is using disagreements as a catalyst to improve our overall work environment and customer experience. This may sound far fetched, but I have seen where productive dissent has been a powerful tool.

If you think about it, to stay competitive in the marketplace, a company must continuously evolve. Stagnation literally equals death, no matter how good your initial product or service is. Technology, the competition, and customer expectations will demand constant improvement. Embracing the principles of the “right fight” is a great way to stay on the cutting edge.

So, what does that really mean?

Harnessing the power of collective wisdom

I am very fortunate to be a part of an organization filled with extremely intelligent and motivated individuals with  diverse backgrounds of experience. However, inherent in this is the fact that, at times, we may disagree with each other about the specs of a project, the ideal organizational structure, or the best process. Instead of agreeing to disagree, we should instead aim to get all thoughts and perspectives placed on the table for consideration. When you approach issues in this way, wonderful things can happen.

It’s often not until you really get into someone else’s thought process by allowing full and honest discourse, that you uncover the gems of innovation and creativity. In this article titled “Conflict in the Workplace”, the columnist stresses the point that for a leader, “How employees deal with conflict is usually a direct reflection of the tone or atmosphere you set for your company. If you shy away from conflict, so will your employees. If you confront others in a negative manner, so will they. If you embrace conflict as a potentially positive engagement between individuals or groups, they will, too.”

This statement made me reflect on my own management style and manner of handling conflict. While I always make a conscious effort to be inclusive of the viewpoints of others, I am sure that I can do more to foster a culture that appreciates and grows from any disagreements we may have. My ultimate goal is progress and I fully embrace it — no matter what the source.

Jeff Weiss, a prolific author on collaboration in the workplace is quoted in the Harvard Business Review as saying “Assume you have something to learn, assume there is a more creative solution than you’ve thought of.” This wisdom, along with striving to identify common ground and branching out, are keys for the successful resolution to workplace conflict. This is advice that can be used in our interactions within the company structure, as well as in our everyday lives.

Give it a try

To me, good teams are built on healthy relationships.  Healthy relationships don’t mean that avoidance of conflict.  In fact, they mean quite the opposite.  Healthy relationships are about trusting someone enough to share your honest feelings with them, even when that means you disagree.  In the end, you and the other person are better for it.  And perhaps most importantly, the whole company is better for it.

The next time you encounter a conflict, employ the principles of the “right fight” and observe the outcome. I would love to know how it works out for you.  (I’ll certainly let you all know how it works out for me…)

About the Author

Hi, I’m Adil Wali. I became a Microsoft certified professional at age 14 and started my first web development company. That led to a career as a serial entrepreneur, advisor, and startup investor. I got my first “real job” at 33, and I’m now a FinTech executive with a passion for the markets.