Believe it or not, some degree of conflict is healthy in a business environment. With my business coaching clients, the problem is more apt to be conflict avoidance rather than too much conflict. Without conflict, you can’t get innovative solutions to problems or creative ideas for new product lines.. You want unfiltered debate and it can’t happen if your people are holding back their opinions.
Of course, there’s a difference between healthy and unhealthy conflict. If conflict is accompanied by malicious intent—gossip, taking sides, back-biting, and politics—it’ll cost you money and you want to stop those quickly.
That’s why building a high-performing team means creating an environment where healthy conflict can flourish and unhealthy conflict is resolved with serious conflict resolution skills—so that your team can come out the other side with solid solutions that will help your enterprise prosper.
Conflict-avoidant teams can create serious drama. In a conflict-avoidant corporate culture, gossip rules the day and people focus on personalities, rather than issues. Passive-aggression becomes commonplace. In such an unsafe environment, even your most innovative and competent team members may become hesitant to assert their opinions. And because it’s below the surface, conflict goes unresolved, leading to further gossip and resentment.
The solution is to establish a culture in which conflict is faced objectively, without fear, in a productive manner that encourages resolution. This way, you can establish a “safe” environment that encourages open and passionate discussions that focus on the issues at hand. With established rules of the road, you can resolve conflict healthily.
Here are some steps you can take within your organization to help your team overcome their fear of conflict.
- If it’s malicious, unhealthy conflict, call the parties involved behind closed doors and ask each one to air his or her grievances. Establish groundrules at the onset, like ‘no interrupting’ or stay calm. Spend the first 50% of the meeting getting the issues on the table and then focus all parties on searching for solutions. And once you’re in the search-for-solutions half of the meeting, a groundrule is ‘no more airing grievances.’
- Normalize the existence of conflict, and encourage people to speak up, even when they disagree with other team members. In meetings, “mine for conflict” to use Pat Lencioni’s words from The Five Dysfunctions of a Team. “Mike, you look as if you have a different opinion from Ellen’s. Let’s hear it.”
- Establish group norms for acceptable ways to resolve conflicts. For example, don’t make it personal, give everyone a chance to speak AND listen, and focus first on understanding the other perspective before you try to assert your own position.
- Do a personality profile, I like the Myers-Briggs, and discuss how the different personality types like to handle conflict.
Do these 4 things and end the unhealthy conflict in your shop. At the same time, you’ll get everyone’s best thinking on the table so problems are solved quickly and great ideas float to the top easily.