Leadership / 03.16.21
Could Fear of Conflict Be Holding Back Your Team?
I recently shared an article on INTIX Access about why trust matters. If you had the chance to see it, you will know that when I say, “You can have conflict only when you have trust,” I don’t mean negative, vindictive, inappropriate, call-the-lawyers conflict. I mean sharing opposing views, challenging each other’s assumptions, opening your mind, and encouraging yourself and each other to grow.
In this article, I will share what healthy conflict looks like and what I mean by “encouraging yourself and each other to grow.” I know from personal experience how important this topic is, and I know from my experience with INTIX and many of you how important this is within your ticketing/entertainment culture, especially as we all continue to recover from the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.
An essential ingredient of a proud and inclusive workspace is when employees, partners and suppliers do not fear conflict. They know they are able to freely share each other’s experiences, knowledge, and points of view and not worry about being attacked, mocked, ridiculed or worse. It is exciting and empowering to be part of a team that is committed to finding the best solution by sharing different ideas and being able to challenge each other’s assumptions, judgements and even beliefs from a place of respect and curiosity.
Sharing Opposing Views and Making a Decision Can Get Loud
I think it is fair to recognize that sharing opposing views and challenging each other’s assumptions can get a little loud (some workspaces, families and cultures embrace loud debate). Personally, I’m better with calm discussion, but if loud is your way, then go for it as long as that is what everyone expects, and they feel safe. I also recommend always being aware of your surroundings for a few reasons. For example:
- I urge you to stay aware of socially acceptable boundaries relating to colorful language and/or full-on inappropriate language (read your HR policies). Crossing over the socially acceptable line can cause you trouble even within a trusting relationship. We have to know what is appropriate and what is not.
- People will not share if they feel intimidated by how everyone around them communicates. For example, introverts, new hires, suppliers and other meeting guests may not understand what is going on if they are not familiar with your discussion and debate style (this goes for your at-home neighbors and people in the grocery store as well).
Whether we are speaking with someone or writing an email, I believe our primary goal should be sharing whenever we communicate. As a leader, I want to make the distinction that sharing our ideas and experience does not mean you or I have to change each other’s mind or beliefs. What is vital is that all voices are respected, and we understand that challenging each other (conflict) is an important step toward collaboration and for us to honor our commitment to find a single, clearly defined, measurable choice. When everyone has input, good things happen.
Conflict and Respect Within Difficult Conversations at Work
Hearing and respecting feedback, opinions and even goals that are different than our own (like not getting a promotion we want) requires vulnerability trust. As I shared in the article about trust at work, an example of vulnerability trust is when you and I feel safe saying something like “I am sorry,” I don’t know” or “I made a mistake,” and we know we will still be treated with respect — not embarrassed or attacked.
Within healthy conflict, vulnerability trust strengthens our relationships as you and I experience first-hand we will not be attacked or made fool of. Using a workplace example, there is something pretty special when we can listen to our counterparts as they share honest feedback and know (trust) it is coming from a place of support not malice or revenge. It often takes time to build trust in our team and our ability to have healthy conflict at work; it also requires us to watch our triggers and our conscious and unconscious biases, especially concerning challenging news.
The one thing we really want to avoid is holding back constructive feedback because “We do not want to hurt Richard’s feelings.” If we do hold back, what often happens is we start making excuses, saying things like, “It’s just the way Richard is.” If we hang that reputation on Richard without ever confronting him, we are likely doing him a disservice that will have long-lasting and negative implications on his career. Instead, choose to have a difficult conversation with Richard and respectfully share what you are experiencing and noticing. At that point, Richard has a choice to adjust or not, and what happens next is up to him.
Conflict is an important component within any highly functioning company or relationship. And, as I suggested above, it is not meant as a fight or battle but a commitment for two or more people to respectfully struggle as they discuss, debate, share and learn from each other.
For me, there is nothing quite like having a constructive debate. Using a personal example, in pre-COVID times, I always enjoyed having a few good friends over and to fall into a lively discussion on some in-the-news topic (usually over a glass or two of scotch). I find this a meaningful reflection of many workspaces because while we are great friends, we all quite different in our age, backgrounds and careers. And, yes, we have very different and similar interpretations on things. It is invigorating, and I always learn something from each encounter and/or I’m reminded how wonderful it is when someone gives me space — and respect to share my ideas.
So perhaps now that we are at the end of this article, this may be a better time to ask you, “Could fear of conflict be holding back your team?”
Thank you for reading. I will enjoy hearing your comments, feedback and even examples about conflict at work.
Bruce Mayhew is a professional development trainer, executive coach and conference speaker who has spoken at a number of INTIX Annual Conferences. Mayhew specializes in soft skills like leadership and new leadership development, motivation skills, generational differences, difficult conversations training, change management, time management and email etiquette. Learn more at www.brucemayhewconsulting.com.
Tags: Leadership , Workplace , Contributed Content