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Kotter: Conflict May Help Push Change Forward

Kotter: Conflict May Help Push Change Forward

December 15, 2010

Conflict: As a leader, you may try to avoid it. After all, it's easier to get work done if everyone starts on the same page, right?

Not necessarily, according to John Kotter, emeritus professor at Harvard Business School and bestselling author of several change management books. In a recent Harvard Business Review blog, Kotter writes about how conflict can actually be beneficial for change management.

Kotter writes:

"This may seem counterintuitive. After all, if you have a great idea, you present it as persuasively as possible with the aim of achieving consensus, right? ... But conflict concerning the issues at hand can be constructive, and even essential! Conflict engages. If people have no opinions, no objections and no emotions, it usually means they don't care."

Engaging your employees in discussions about change, and encouraging them to voice concerns or disagreement can actually make them more willing to undertake the change you're proposing.

Read Kotter's full blog entry The Good Fight: How Conflict Can Help Your Idea at Harvard Business Review.

And there may be other effects, as well. As connected as they think they are, often the executive is not the one on the floor doing the hands-on work. Encouraging discussion on proposed changes may make you more aware of problems that you didn't know existed, or changes already in place addressing the issues.

As one person commented on Kotter's blog, though, "It must be productive conflict, which only occurs when there is a baseline of trust within the team."

Read MDM's interview with Kotter on Creating a Sense of Urgency to help with buy-in when making changes.

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