Most of us become anxious at the mention of conflict, and are eager to find ways to avoid or calm it. But Mary Parker Follett had a very positive view of the role of conflict in organizations.
Rather than seeking to eradicate or suppress it, she felt that we should find ways to put it to work for us. Follett illustrated this point by comparing conflict with friction. While it is true, as she conceded, that our work with friction is usually directed at eliminating it, we also study how to understand and exploit it.
A rope and pulley system, for example, simultaneously attempts to remove friction, so that the pulley can turn, and to use friction, so that the rope can transfer energy. The maintenance – even the enhancement – of friction enables motion, produces heat, polishes surfaces.
Conflict, too, can provide us traction to generate constructive energy and motion. It can enable us to identify and study issues of import to the organization. It can help us develop both realistic appraisals of situations confronting us, and decisive responses to them. The prudent application of conflict can even smooth dysfunctional irregularities in organizational design and procedure. But that can only happen if we are willing to embrace and use conflict, and not merely instinctively remove or suppress it.
Follett identified three ways of dealing with conflict: domination, compromise, and integration. Domination is a prominent means of resolving conflict by one side imposing itself, or gaining victory over, the other. This is the suppression of conflict.
Tomorrow, we’ll take a look at Follett’s views on compromise, before returning to some of her specific ideas about how to constructively use conflict in organizations. Please do join in.
This post is a part of a series. You can learn about and link to the other articles here: Conflict
Today’s tip: Speaking of conflict, sometimes it seems difficult to suppress the instinct to launch into it. But before rushing into the lists, please see this revealing essay by Cam Beck at ChaosScenario about why you might first want to determine its fundamental source.
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