Friday, January 31, 2020

Can Having a Purpose Reduce Conflict?

                                                                                                                                  By Sandra Aguillon
                                                                                                                                  Odysseys LLC, Managing Director

Purpose is very central to what I recommend and base much of my work on. It is often a much needed refocusing tool and guide. If I had to explain purpose I would compare it to the destination you choose on a navigational system. Before you head anywhere on any trip you have to know where you are going. Even if you plan to wander aimlessly, you choose to do that before you start your trip.

When you have a purpose many of your choices and much of your planning is done around that purpose. When you have determined a destination most forward movement will be in that general direction. Forward movement is not the only part of a journey, but your purpose will be the essence overall. There are activities that you will engage in for the joy of the activity like certain social events, some sports, and hobbies, but they will revolve around your central purpose not the other way around.

Recently, I spent some time studying conflict and the effects that conflict has on organizations. The lens through which I observe situations was temporarily shifted to look at the conflict in certain events instead of addressing purpose. This was a valuable exercise. Conflict is a hurdle to purpose and, as I have learned, a hurdle is manageable and can sometimes strengthen purpose. The central question that surfaced was 'What happens when there are too many hurdles, and how can purpose be used to better manage the conflict?'

Conflict as it turns out, much like countless other elements in our lives, is sometimes relevant and other times irrelevant. For instance, consider someone running a store whose purpose is to be the low price leader of their product. This is very simplified, but the idea is sufficiently covered. Consider two conflicts; one consists of a customer who is upset and arguing with a sales person because the store does not carry a product she is looking to purchase, the other consists of two sales persons unwilling to work on the same shift because they dislike each other so much. Can you decipher which conflict is relevant to the store and which is irrelevant? Which conflict would you recommend the store have a meeting to address?

The amount of conflict perhaps is unchanged by purpose initially, but the amount of time and energy one spends on conflicts is minimized by having a defined purpose. How would a store know which conflicts are relevant and which are not if they do not have a purpose, and what effect would different purposes have on the same set of conflicts? What if the store in our example had a purpose to please every customer and make sure they leave the store happy? The changing purpose changes the priorities. So, does having a purpose reduce conflict? I conclude that it does, because knowing which conflict matters reduces the attention you give to those that are not relevant.