How Healthy Conflict Can Make a Business Stronger

Written by: Ron Scheese

Values Are Not Binary

A blog written by President & CEO, Ron Scheese

During focus groups with several Andesa Services’ employees who are helping to breathe life into our company’s values, we watched a segment from the 2015 movie Steve Jobs, featuring Michael Fassbender as Jobs and Seth Rogen as Steve Wozniak, the “Woz.”

The clip depicts a tremendous drama which can be examined on many different levels.  The scene concludes with a terrific zinger: “It’s not binary; you can be decent and gifted at the same time.” I would encourage watching the film clip before continuing on with the blog.

Andesa values Honesty, Respect, Integrity, Courage, Initiative and Responsibility.

As our team dissected the scene seeking examples of our values being exercised, we identified instances of honesty being expressed between the two Steves.

The group further acknowledged it took courage and demonstrated initiative for Woz to stand up to Jobs. Woz clearly acted with responsibility by defending his team’s honor and arguing for their recognition.  We also recognized the initiative and courage of the stage manager; her attempts to intervene, to clear the auditorium and to seek additional support and leadership assistance such that the confrontation would be more responsibly handled privately than publicly.

Our employees also noted where Andesa’s values were being violated.  Clearly, this dispute was about respect and as the argument deteriorated, very little esteem was paid toward one another. While both are big picture guys and believed they were taking responsibility for the company’s direction, their passion for their position was evident.

The group noted that passion and belief do not bestow a right for one to disrespect another.  With each passing comment, the conflict became more personal and elevated in nastiness.  For this battle to occur in full view of the other Apple employees present was also disrespectful, or perhaps irresponsible, on behalf of both gentlemen.

What lessons emerged for our company from this exercise?

Values are not binary. It is imperative that our team demonstrate each of the individual values in our day-to-day interworking.  But while Andesa espouses six distinct values, it is the balance; the inter-connectedness of the values which is required for the individual to fully live into them.

It is not appropriate to be honest at the expense of respect or responsibility.  Courage, initiative and integrity should be demonstrated, but not without regard to respect, honesty and responsibility in our interactions.  In other words, it is not appropriate to violate a value under the guise of demonstrating another value.

The individual should strive to achieve all values in the situation – a team member can be honest, respectful and responsible at the same time.  One can demonstrate integrity, courage and honesty while being respectful.

Conflicts and confrontations occur in business and among people.  Healthy conflict is necessary for a business to thrive. Unhealthy conflict can lead to business demise. We each have different roles, priorities, perspectives, histories and value priorities.  I may regard responsibility higher than Mary who regards honesty above all else.  Sue may value efficiency, while Bill may value creativity and innovation.

We cross into the danger zone when we begin to personalize the conflicts and fail to see the value in the others perspective.  In these situations, it is imperative to understand the other person’s reality – to acknowledge personal value.

Understanding of the core values of an organization and the behaviors expected of the team members can help ensure a healthy-conflict environment.  It is ultimately about making the business (and the individuals within the business) better.  Conflict does not have to be avoided, but it needs to occur within a safe, values-focused environment.

The Apple confrontation scene begins as a business discussion and a request to recognize a team of successful, dedicated employees. It quickly deteriorates into a personal clash, which ratchets up the rhetoric and cruelty with each point/counter-point.  We learned the importance of maintaining a professional, business focus during our encounters.

It was also noted that the values were increasingly violated as the argument became more heated. Perhaps it is easier to live into our values while the issues are “about the business” and are addressed accordingly.  Perhaps it is increasingly imperative that we live into our values when we stumble from the business to the personal realm.

Finally, speaking of the value of honesty, here’s the thing. While the film clip is a great teaching tool and allowed our team to consider our values differently, it is after all Hollywood.  According to Woz himself, the confrontation depicted never happened.  Here’s what Woz told Business

That scene was made up for the movie.

I was behind Jobs and the products at each introduction. I would never even talk to a friend that way. But the sentiment among many was like that portrayed by my character, so their feelings were put into my mouth for the movie. I would have liked myself saying those things, except for the epithet. The comments about Apple II recognition had nothing to do with myself. I was a voice for all the employees of that division who were being ignored and disrespected, possibly to diminish a source of competition to Steve Jobs’ Macintosh.

That scene, and others with me addressing Jobs, were based on a 30-second phone call I made to John Sculley, not on my own behalf but on that of a ton of managers and execs and engineers who were about ready to quit, since they were responsible for all of Apple’s profits at that time and got no mention at all (and worse) at a shareholders meeting. They didn’t have as powerful a voice as I had, so I made that phone call on their behalf.

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