Merriam-Webster states the definition of conflict as... 1: FIGHT, BATTLE, WAR an armed conflict; 2a: competitive or opposing action of incompatibles : antagonistic state or action (as of divergent ideas, interests, or persons).
For most of us, conflict refers to definition #2 - divergent ideas, interests or persons. There is a time and place for this sort of conflict in businesses.
Conflict isn't necessarily bad
The perfect time for there to be conflicting ideas within an organization or team is when information is being processed and decisions are being made about the direction of the company or project. Divergent ideas encourage people to think through options they may not have addressed. It provides new information and the process of discussing the ramifications of new information makes for much better solutions. Conflict can be used effectively as a tool to test and assess potential options. When a workplace is trained and supported in using conflict appropriately - they can be exceptionally successful.
When conflict is used incorrectly
When conflict is used incorrectly however, it can result in sabotaging projects and people, causing inefficiencies in time and materials, and destroying morale in the workplace. So how do you create an atmosphere of welcoming positive conflict, and eliminating negative conflict?
Doing it right
For conflict to be used effectively, the entire organization - top to bottom - must be trained in the appropriate ways conflict can be used. Some key ingredients are:
1. It must be open and direct: There can be no hidden agendas, no talking behind people's back, and no lying. When everyone in a company understands that they can ask questions, present new information or disagree with something while it is in the planning stages, conflict can be used appropriately.
2. No punishment: There can not be negative consequences for those who play devils' advocate, or identify flaws in a plan. Identifying weaknesses and presenting new options will only make a project stronger. Those individuals who question information, present new ideas or disagree are performing a valuable service.
3. There is a time and a place: Conflicting opinions are most successfully vetted at the beginning of a project. This is why it is important for there to be a culture of openness to divergent ideas. If options and potential obstacles are thoroughly vetted at the beginning of a process, there is much less sunk-cost fallacy. Sunk-cost fallacy is when an unsuccessful course of action is followed primarily because so much time and money has already been put into it. Once objections and different options to a plan have been investigated and discussed, and the group has come to a decision - the time for conflict over the direction of the project is over. There may be more over minor details of how to accomplish the goals of the project as it progresses - but everyone should be behind the actual goal.
Once differing opinions and divergent ideas are thoroughly vetted, and everyone is onboard with the direction of a project or goal, the organization can move forward as a team working together, pulling in the same direction.