A little bit of Italian in your business is a good thing.

by Sean Foster | August 11, 2022 | Newsletter

Is It Time to Create Some Conflict In Your Business?


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On average they take me two Pomodora’s to write and personally I think that as I become wiser as a coach they are becoming increasingly beneficial to business owners. Give me your low-down, I would value your feedback.

Even though I had watched The Sopranos I was still taken back by the seemingly over-aggressive nature of the Italians during a business trip a few years back. Not speaking Italian I could only watch from the sideline. The head salesperson was going off at the two business owners and in turn, they were retaliating.

After 10 minutes I left the room to grab a coffee and I caught up with the salesperson 20 minutes later. When I asked him what was wrong he was perplexed. It turned out this was just normal conversation. They didn’t hold back: they just said things as they were. There seemed to be no lingering anger or resentment. That day I learned a valuable lesson.

The lesson was not to be a mini-Italian, rather it was to have the courage to be more forthright in my opinions, an area I know I struggle in.

There is a famous quote from Mahatma Gandhi: “Peace is not the absence of conflict but the ability to cope with it”, and after that event in Italy it made a lot more sense to me. Does it have meaning for you?

Why should you even care about how well you are managing conflict in your business? 

There are many reasons why healthy conflict is important- here are a few:

    • People respect each other’s viewpoints better
    • Everyone finds the workplace more enjoyable and productive
    • People become less defensive of their positions and more open to exploring alternatives
    • Creativity, self-accountability, and co-operation (teamwork) are all improved.

There are many more pros to this equation than the above.

I frequently come across the statement that as humans, we are hardwired to avoid conflict. I disagree. But I do believe that there are societal and cultural differences in how we relate to conflict handling. I also do not believe we manage conflict well in New Zealand.

Like most of my NewsBriefs, the information I present is not a quick fix: achieving that in a few hundred words is a tall ask. So consider this as Part 1: Defining productive vs unproductive conflict. 

What we can achieve in this NewsBrief is an understanding of what productive conflict is. If you could recognise, in real-time, the difference between productive and unproductive conflict, then you will be in a better situation in managing conflict to your advantage.

The table shown here summarises four of the primary behavioural tendencies that will affect how conflict is viewed in your business. 

There is a widespread misconception out there regarding conflict and directness: many people see directness as negative, so to avoid this, many people tend to skirt the issue, leaving the other party guessing what they are really trying to say.

Indirectness, while appropriate in specific situations, is more akin to passive aggressiveness, and who respects that? As brilliantly highlighted by Kim Scott in her book Radical Candour (highly recommended reading), you are needing to find the right balance between Ruinous Empathy (and Passive Aggression) and Obnoxious Aggression. 

Interested in this subject? Feel that you have gained some insight into recognizing unproductive conflict in your business? Watch out for Part 2 where I will cover some of the strategies to implement in your business to increase your productive conflict level.

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