Building a Better Workplace Culture by Managing Conflict – Lessons from Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

Black History Month 2019 creates an opportunity to reflect on the teachings of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in the year he would have celebrated his 90th birthday.
At the core of King’s approach to address racial inequality, poverty and war was the concept of the Beloved Community, a global vision of brotherly (agape) love in which all people share in the wealth of the earth. Dr. King understood agape love plays a fundamental role in building healthy communities that benefit all people and should operate as a centerpiece of our social interactions and workplace culture.

Today’s increasingly diverse workplace is a positive step towards King’s dream of a world free of discrimination. But many companies still struggle to create a healthy culture where conflict born from differences of opinion, heritage and gender do not prevail over the sense of community and collaboration.

This fundamental business challenge merits further examination and begs the question of how would Dr. King’s nonviolence philosophy apply in modern-day companies? How can companies manage conflict and flourish by fostering a culture that emulates the broader Beloved Community championed by Dr. King?

Dr. King described a series of six actions (stages) that can be applied to issues of conflict.

Information Gathering

To understand and articulate an issue or problem facing a person or group in the workplace, do your research. So many disagreements are born from a basic misunderstanding of the facts. Companies should encourage employees, leaders and teams to be curious and take the time to be clear on both sides of an issue.

Education

Make an effort to inform others, including your “opponent,” about your issue. Speak in terms of the basis of your position first and foremost. Doing so creates clarity about why you should be supported without centering the conflict around why another party or colleague is in the wrong.

Personal Commitment

Accept that addressing conflict can be uncomfortable. Addressing conflict without hostility or violence requires patience and compassion. Keeping an open mind and heart can mean we all must be prepared for the possibility we may not get the immediate outcome (justice) we seek.