My conflict with conflict

Although the roundtable discussion and lecture with Ed Freeman was way more palpable than I was expecting, I felt slightly unsatisfied with many of Freeman’s answers to questions posed by students and audience members at the night lecture. Contrasted from the roundtable where I felt his answers left myself and many others students contemplative about their personal purposes and leadership roles, I felt Freeman diffused a lot of the questions I really wanted him to dig deeper with by reinstating core principles of the stakeholder theory.

My question to Freeman was, “A lot of literature on stakeholder management views shareholder value as fostering a myopic mindset with its incentives and benchmark performance measures. In pursuing creation of long term value, what would you say are key attributes to avoiding the clash of effectively incorporating different stakeholders’ purposes?” Even though I felt Freeman did not directly answer my question, I initially felt satisfied enough with the answer of “conflict is a good thing, it allows companies to see what is wrong with their business model”. I agree, conflict is unavoidable due to the interconnection of stakeholders and their varied purposes. Conflict is a good process for any organization since it enables progress. Conflict fosters improvements and positive change. It allows leaders to lead and innovators to innovate.

But as I tried to think of possible company conflicts that could be caused by a clash of stakeholders’ purposes while walking back to my seat after receiving this answer, I realized I don’t completely agree with Ed Freeman. Sure, in it’s best case scenario, conflict serves as a positive force to a business. But a business can be negatively affected depending on the type, scope, and capability of dealing with conflict. What happens when the company simply does not have to tools to resolve a conflict? What if the proposed business model is not as ethically motivated as the current model? Or if destructive forces causing the conflict destroy a business model that has worked for many stakeholders for years?

Then I began to think how essential conflict is in this game we call life. Personally, I try to avoid creating conflict at all costs because I hate the unease and anxiety it creates for everyone involved. It’s human nature to think that way. But conflict is unavoidable, every person and every company experiences conflict on a daily basis. It allows us to develop an opinion and grow wiser.  How we chose to deal with previous conflicts has provided vital formative experiences that help us deal with future conflicts.

This concept of conflict Freeman brought up leaves me truly conflicted on my own opinion of conflict in the corporate context. I think this concept of “conflict is a good thing” is always true at a microlevel. We as people, and stakeholders, face conflict continuously and we will always be around to live and learn from the outcomes of those conflicts. Businesses on the other hand may not always have this pleasure. There are only a handful of company names in the corporate world that have survived for generations due their extraordinary conflict resilience skills.


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