How to Manage Organizational Disputes and Embrace All Perspectives

Every organization endures some friction amongst its staff. Even the most experienced and cohesive management team will encounter disagreement and dispute. It reflects human nature, and it is healthy for the organization to have some conflict.

In a way, each member of the organization has a responsibility to use their skills, talents and experiences to the benefit of the organization. To quash those assets because he or she doesn’t agree with a direction or strategy is to deny the organization the benefits of the very tools that brought that person into the position in the first place.

So whether the organization is a company, a project team, or a department, it is important to think about the roles each member plays from one project to the next. When things are going great, is there someone who keeps seeing the dark cloud while everyone else is seeing the silver lining? A colleague recently referred to those challengers as ‘cliff dwellers’. They keep looking over the cliff and warning everyone else how far down it drops.

The cliff dwellers play a critical role in a successful organization. They help remind us of the pitfalls that too much optimism can create. During good times, we might tend to dismiss their negative nature. If we do, we do so at our own peril, however.

Look at the cliff dwellers in your organization. It is likely they have some time-tested battle scars. They have personally experienced the difficult times and challenges of our business and therefore wish to avoid the steps that have led to those times in the past. This doesn’t mean that we redirect strategies to be overly conservative because of the risks we are taking. Rather, it does mean we need to always be mindful of those risks and watch out for the warning signs that we are getting near the cliff.

Optimists can get frustrated by the pessimists – they are always looking at the glass as half empty. Pessimists may look at optimists as being too easily swayed by good news, too aggressive about moving forward on the slightest hint of recovery. The thing to remember is that neither is necessarily right. 

Effective leaders and managers need to listen to both sides in the debate and then make a decision that takes both perspectives into consideration. After all, both sides bring experience, success, talent and dedication to the cause and both sides are valued and credible. Both sides are important. Both sides need to know they have been heard and their thoughts have been seriously considered and appreciated. You want to ensure that there is debate; that there is someone looking out for the cliff.

I would guess that Noah, the great ark builder, was a cliff dweller.

“Time spent arguing is, oddly enough, almost never wasted.” 

Christopher Hitchens

“It is better to debate a question without settling it than to settle a question without debating it.” 

Joseph Joubert