When you think about conflict at work, you might remember an antagonizing boss, petty office politics, and the know-it-all who talks over people. But, if you’re the kind of person who avoids stirring things up and shies away from conflict, we have some bad news for you. You may actually be just as harmful because your avoidance also prevents healthy conflict.
Healthy conflicts, according to a Myers-Briggs Company survey, improve working relationships, increase motivation, and can even trigger major innovations. Though they are uncomfortable, healthy conflicts are the lifeblood of keeping the workplace authentic and human.
In the process of dodging conflict, “nice people” often bottle up their emotions and develop grudges. Ironically, it’s often these same “nice people” who then resort to passive aggressive tactics or lash out when their negative emotions boil over. In the grand scheme of things, it’s sharing your perspective, asserting yourself, and offering constructive feedback that make you nice. Healthy conflict is a form of self-care, and on the group level, it promotes harmony, solutions, and new ideas. Here are six strategies to help you hone your approach to healthy conflict.
Use “and” to make your points, not “but.” One way to engage in a healthy conflict is to make your response an addition instead of a detraction. For example, you might say, “That’s an interesting idea to offer this content in a webinar, and I wonder how we can prevent people from using the rich information we provide in the webinar to avoid subscribing to our membership program.” By using the word “and,” you encourage problem-solving and support the idea offered. By using the word “but” in the same situation, you may come off sounding like you’re trying to poke holes or derail the original idea.
Ask for an explanation. One common instigator of unhealthy conflict is when someone states a new idea as a command without explaining their decision. When this happens, it’s easy to move into hypotheticals and brew on hidden agendas or grudges that don’t actually exist. Instead of brewing, get your clarity by asking questions. Ask what the goal is and why they’re approaching it that way. The added bonus to this approach is that if the stated idea wasn’t well thought out, your questioning may expose holes in their idea and give them an opportunity to pull back and adjust.
Show some vulnerability. When something doesn’t sound quite right to you, admit that you don’t understand. This encourages an explanation without coming across as an attack. It can also be a good way to find common ground you didn’t realize you had. You may find, for example, that the argument is over the execution, not the desired outcome.
Ask for a potential solution. When you present an idea of your own and someone pushes back, ask for an example. For instance, you might say, “I hear what you’re saying about a November 1st launch date being a potential problem—it is just around the corner. How might we work through that?” This directs the person’s challenge to a more constructive, collaborative place.
Question the impact. “If we try launching pilot versions sooner, then how might that impact our back-and-forths with the content writers and designers?” This is a way of taking something hypothetical and trying to make it more real and more concrete.
Reach an agreement to collaborate. If you find yourself in a detailed conflict with someone, set up a meeting to work through the problem or project one-on-one. Get as specific as possible. Agree to an actual process for how you want to find facts and work through them. Decide together how you want to gather information, analyze it, and reach a decision.
From Insights to Action. Overcoming the discomfort of conflict is a matter of habit. Each time you choose not to engage in a conflict, you get a bit more used to avoiding that discomfort. Having this set of strategies in your back pocket will help you break that habit and assert yourself in a constructive way. You’ll soon` discover a little discomfort is just part of mastering healthy conflict.
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