Constructive ConflictThe word ‘conflict’ originates from the Latin conflingere meaning ‘to come together for a battle’ – from the outset, the perception here is that a conflict is designed to cause damage. Intrapreneurship needs conflict – out of conflict comes new ideas.

Conflicts arise because there are needs, values or ideas that are seen to be different. Conflict is a struggle between people which may be physical, or between conflicting ideas and is unavoidable.

Constructive Conflict

Conflict always has, and always will be a reality of the workplace. Whenever people work together the difference of opinions and ideas will result in conflict. Seeking to eliminate conflict is therefore impossible – but, rather than avoid conflict, intrapreneurs should seek it out, embrace it, and use it to their advantage.

It’s fair to say that you cannot effect change or create organizational culture (or resolve & exploit conflict) unless the individual attitude is right in the first place. Conflict may be unavoidable – but creative conflict rests with each of us.

So here’s some definitions of conflict:

    “it is a fact of life and it comes and goes as life moves on. It is part of a process for the reason that it may arise out of such an array of objective and subjective conditions that demand resolution on sustainable basis” (Cap-Net, 2008)
    “it affects the power dynamic between couples by forcing them to negotiate and renegotiate the extent to which they share power” (Wood, 2007)
    “it is a process that begins when an individual or group perceives differences and opposition between oneself and another individual or group about interests and resources, beliefs, values or practices that matter to them. This process view can be applied to all kinds of parties – nations, organizations, groups, or individuals – and to all kinds of conflict – from latent tensions to manifest violence” (Netherlands Organization for Social Research, 2007)
    “it is a disagreement between two interdependent people who perceive that they have incompatible goals” (Guerrero et al., 2001)
    “it is the perceived and / or actual incompatibility of values, expectations, processes, or outcomes between two or more parties over substantive and / or relational issues” (Ting-Toomey, 1994)

Types of Conflict

In his 2000 publication “Working with conflict: skills and strategies for action”, Simon Fisher refers to four types of conflict:

  • No conflict – when parties have compatible goals and compatible behaviors, then it is reasonable to assume that there is no conflict
  • Open conflict – when the two parties openly confront each other. As an example, if you are in a meeting and two people start shouting at each other over a specific issue then that would be overt. Overt conflict would manifest itself in other ways apart from a shouting match – consider two colleagues who dislike each other so much that they simply avoid each other. We refer to this as overt conflict.
  • Latent conflict – is much more common and occurs when at least one of the parties hides their anger or hostility which will result in stress as they internalize their frustration and resentment. These feelings will manifest themselves in ‘office politics’. Such conflict can damage an individual’s or team’s performance, resulting in the company underperforming. In economic terms, covert conflict costs businesses money through underperformance / non-performance. We refer to this as covert conflict.
  • Surface conflict – this is a cosmetic form of conflict usually borne out of misunderstanding (either misaligned goals or behaviors but, in many cases, a misread email!). If this is not handled quickly it can fester into covert conflict as the parties internally reinforce their misconceptions until they become ‘fact’ in their head – “my belief is my reality”.

So what does the intrapreneur see, based on such definitions?

  • continual shifts in organizational strategy leading to inconsistent situations – people struggling to deal with constant change and so they finally say ‘enough’s enough’ and dig their heels in
  • growth of protectionism as people defend fiefdoms and domains in the face of shifts in power
  • people who did not want to be involved in intrapreneurial adventures start to see themselves being left behind – so they block and hinder activity
  • people who disagree with the introduction of intrapreneurship say ‘yes’ and fully mean ‘no’ (we can safely call this ‘lying’ and ‘deceit’)
  • negative behaviors based on personal interest as opposed to to social or corporate benefit
  • meetings descending into point-scoring and slanging matches

Based on these, what is in your organization? In my experience with hundreds of organizations, covert conflict is the killer – it is corrosive; it is toxic. It is better to draw this out into the open – overt conflict can be discussed and addressed. Covert conflict costs your organization money!

If you are interested in building collaborative intelligence in your organization, contact me and let’s talk.

CQ – Conflict (I)