Peace is not absence of conflict, it is the ability to handle conflict by peaceful means” ~Ronald Reagan.

The transition from the Manufacturing Age to the Information Age brought is a value revolution. The current values revolution has turned the traditional workplace upside down and inside out. Is this good and purposeful for genuine progress? Some of the answers are posed in the recent Robert De Niro movie “The Intern” while others are suggested below. The main take-away from the De Niro character is to silently model the values of right behavior that make you successful and then gently influence wrong behavior kindly.

I do think so on our question above—that the current values revolution is leading us to eventual progress—based on past experience. No matter how uncomfortable a change is for us with very unpleasant outcomes along the way, the place where we land always seems to be better. And I do not acknowledge my perennial optimism as the cause of that conclusion, but rather reality and the way life really works.

Today in private sector business, public service and non-profit organizations, there is a major conflict going on that requires a thoughtful resolution. This conflict has to do with the very fundamental nature of the employee-employer relationship or bigger social contract we all have with life. We get life to live it the best way we can, being the best person we can. There is never any something for nothing in this tit for tat a priori arrangement. Employees get jobs and pay from employers in return for following necessary work rules and being productive in helping the employer accomplish its mission and business goals.

Some dangerous but righteous questions I am seeing challenged regularly today are the following ones. Who has what rights in controlling and directing the traditional employer-employee relationship? Who sets the rules, goals and values needed to accomplish the organization’s mission? Who has most control over the direction the organization is going? Who has the most right to determine what work gets done and how it gets done? And even, who has what rights under what circumstances?

All conflicts in life and work are moments of either danger or opportunity. I have never seen a good outcome emerge from avoiding conflicts as danger to run away from, but I have with confronting them as an opportunity to learn, grow and improve. Conflicts that are avoided seem to re-appear later with more vengeance and difficulty to overcome. And usually at a time not welcomed or convenient.

The most serious conflict in business today involves redefining the employer-employee relationship. Today, employees probably know more than they have in the past because the younger generation is the one who created the information age. They want and need to be heard and respected for what they know. This is very hard for an older generation of managers, who spent a lifetime learning the valuable hard-earned wisdom that led them to be successful and it is not easy to admit this as being obsolete. (Do see the movie “The Intern” to see how the Robert De Niro character dealt with this problem!)

Now here is a possible paradox in life and work that may not be resolvable, at least the way we would like it to be. Maybe some conflicts are not meant to be resolved, at least according to our expectations. Just maybe, some conflicts occur to enable us to see the only possible answer that requires a major change in paradigms—especially regarding the perspective in which we are looking at the conflict. Regarding the employer-employee relationship, maybe each side is looking at the wrong “enemy” and may need to do an about face so to speak.

The opposition or targeted “enemy” is not the employee from the employer’s perspective, and not the employer from the employee’s viewpoint. Employers and employee are on the same team. The two groups need to join forces in unity to confront the real “enemy”—the individuals or entities that oppose or are obstacles to the organization’s mission, purpose, goals and core values. The real “enemy” could include the in-house fighting, competitors, wrong doers and adverse events in life. That is a much more sporting approach to the perpetual game of business.

It always seems more productive to look for ways to ask new and better questions than to search for clever answers to obvious questions. The question in business today is how do we redefine the traditional employer-employee relationship which is obsolete in the Information Age, to get more in sync with the flowing river before some of us drown? The usual best answer to such a dilemma is to change perspectives—from seeing employers vs. employees to both as a unified team vs. the business obstacles in the way of success.

“Whenever you're in conflict with someone, there is one factor that can make the difference between damaging your relationship and deepening it. That factor is attitude.” ~William James

Author's Bio: 

William Cottringer, Ph.D. is Executive Vice-President for Employee Relations for Puget Sound Security, Inc. in Bellevue, WA, and Adjunct Professor at Northwest University, along with his hobbies in being a Sport Psychologist, Business Success Coach, Photographer and Writer living in the peaceful but invigorating mountains and rivers of North Bend. He is author of several business and self-development books, including, “You Can Have Your Cheese & Eat It Too” (Executive Excellence), “The Bow-Wow Secrets” (Wisdom Tree), “Do What Matters Most” and “P” Point Management” (Atlantic Book Publishers), “Reality Repair” (Global Vision Press), Reality Repair Rx (Authorsden), and “If Pictures Could Talk,” coming soon. Bill can be reached for comments or questions at (425) 454-5011 or