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Looking for trouble? How to create the right kind of conflict

The right inclusion strategies bring conflict and that’s no bad thing

Person, human, Woman, workplace inclusion Unsplash/Brooke Cagle
If you want real collaboration in the workplace you need to communicate it, praise it and say no to behaviour that doesn’t match it, says Dawn

There’s a lot of talk about diversity and how important it is for organisations that want to be creative and innovate and connect with their customers.

But diversity is easy. It really is. Just change your hiring practices – learn from what others do and work harder. No organisation can explain away a lack of diversity. 

Inclusion, however, is different. It’s where the actual magic happens. And diversity is pointless without inclusion.

Inclusion is also much harder to achieve in the workplace because it means everyone having a voice and everyone listening. It means speaking and listening up. And that means conflict.

Diversity brings conflict and that’s OK. It is sure to happen when you start hearing new points of views and considering new approaches.

The question isn’t “will there be conflict?” because the answer is a resounding “yes”. The question isn’t even “how will we manage the conflict?”. Instead, the question should be “how do we make sure we get that kind of conflict?”.

Creating the ‘right’ conflict

With the right kind of conflict you get real buy in and that means you do the right thing and do the thing right. Execution is easier if the conflict happens up front. 

Getting clarity on what kind of behaviours are acceptable and desirable is one way of ensuring that you get the kind of conflict you want.

It’s not enough to say you want collaboration. You need to communicate it and praise it, say no to behaviour that doesn’t match what you want and get rid of people who don’t play by the rules.

At all times it must be clear that silence is consent and that different situations will need different kinds of decision-making. That’s how you get good conflicts. 

Clarity is key. The more diverse your audience is, the more likelihood there is of being misunderstood, so it needs to be clear what words mean in practice. It’s not enough, for example, to point to a shared corporate value and expect it to be interpreted in the same way by everyone. 

A great example of this is ‘transparency’. Merely encouraging transparency within your team isn’t enough – you need to explicitly explain what you do and don’t mean by it.

You don’t, for example, mean that everyone in the organisation will know the financial forecasts, but you do mean that you will share your priorities and will outline how you see the team accomplishing those goals.

Successful workplace inclusion

No matter what the external culture or cultures, the internal culture of any organisation is a choice. 

Many years ago I was at a three-day conference in the Middle East. The start time was ostensibly 9:30am and at 9:41 am the gentleman sitting next to me began to get agitated. I asked if he was ok and he explained that we were late starting and it made him uncomfortable. 

Given the propensity for things to start behind schedule in the region I assumed he must be new and was amazed to hear that he’d been there for 14 years.

I asked how on earth an 11-minute delay was perturbing him so much. He told me that he didn’t experience lateness because his organisation, one of the big courier companies, was completely focused on punctuality at every turn. 

In other words, they had created an internal culture that was different from the prevailing one outside of the organisation. And we can all do that if we focus. 

Dawn Metcalfe is a workplace culture advisor, trainer and public speaker