Ben Horowitz On Conflict

In movies, conflict makes things interesting. Conflict is what draws us into the story. In day to day life however, it’s the opposite. Most people won’t claim to enjoy a boring life, but they do tend to try to avoid conflict in their own lives.

Overall this is probably a good thing. Most conflicts are a waste of energy.

In the workplace though the right type of conflict is a good thing. The following is an excerpt from an interview with Ben Horowitz that highlights this perfectly.

The book uses a lot of war terminology; there are boxing photographs here on the wall. At one point you lament that you can’t award promotions based on executives’ fighting ability. Are you drawn to conflict as a person?

I don’t know that I’m drawn to conflict; you don’t necessarily in these businesses want conflict with other companies, though you get it a fair amount. But, and this is one of the best management pieces of advice I ever got from Marc Andreessen: he was quoting Lenin, who was quoting Karl Marx, who said: “sharpen the contradictions.” Marx was talking about labor and capital, which is not generally what you’re talking about when you’re running a company. But the conflict is where the truth is. And so when there’s a conflict in the organization, you do not want to smooth it over. You want to sharpen the contradictions, heat up both opinions, and resolve it. Good CEOs are really good at doing that. And it’s miserable to work for someone who tries to smooth things over. “Oh no, it’s a miscommunication.” Miscommunication? I don’t agree with that, motherfucker!

When managed correctly conflict draws out strong, valid opinions from a variety of sources. Leaders should encourage employees to voice their opinions. This builds strong characters and a strong team.