How to Revel in Conflict

      2 Comments on How to Revel in Conflict

Workplace conflict can be useful. It’s called diversity. It’s how the universe works.

With all the talk about stakeholder collaboration, employee engagement and positive psychology, etc., you’d think that we’d have learned to eliminate disagreement. We have not!

As Workplace MOJO says, ‘…if you see lots of heads nodding up and down …  it ought to be a red flag.’

It may be easier to arrive at better solutions when we disagree. That said…

How we disagree matters. 

Some thoughts – guidelines if you like – to be helpful when people see themselves in opposite corners:

Change the language of ‘but’ to ‘and’. It’s a both / and world. Always has been. When they insert the ‘and’ word, people can listen and maybe see a bit of what they have in common.

When someone says, ‘I disagree’, just smile. Then ask them not to challenge the other person, i.e., state why the other person is wrong, but instead ask them to talk about what they would see happening instead.

Similarly, when a team takes a controversial point of view have them briefly explain what they want, not what’s wrong with the other idea.

Get the low-key people who normally roll with the punches to assert themselves with easy requests like, ‘That sounds interesting. Tell me more about how you see that working for me as well as you!’

When someone says something obnoxious, say, ‘You seem very passionate. When this worked for you in the past, what worked for you? What worked for others?’ Then, ‘Suppose you are successful again in the future how will that be useful for the others on the team?’ You don’t have to agree with them, but somewhere in their response there will be some ideas that are useful.

Always ask the dissenter, a) what they like about the other person’s idea, b) what they think the other person might like about their own idea.

If, in response to the above lines of questioning a person says, ‘Nothing’, or ‘I don’t know’, say, ‘Wow! You have strong opinions and a creative mind. There must be something that works!’ Something small.’ Be silent while they think.

With really obstinate people, remind yourself to, ‘Stay Calm and Carry On’. Smile. Avoid the debate model. Don’t challenge back. Keep asking purposeful questions.

Remember, your job is to get some movement towards solutions. Agreement can happen next time!

Finally, rule #1. Agree to disagree, but do something to set wheels of learning in motion. Make a decision. Take some small steps, the riskier the better!

As William James said, ‘The art of being wise is the art of knowing what to overlook’. How do you overlook disagreement and help people make progress?

2 thoughts on “How to Revel in Conflict

  1. Sarah Egolf

    Thank you. It is important for teams to value dissent in order to avoid groupthink, which isn’t just dangerous in politics but business as well.

    1. Alan Kay

      Thanks Sarah. The place I encourage dissent most often is in
      the roundtables I often conduct for clients. I always open up the session
      saying, ‘One of the ways to have a really good discussion is to have
      disagreement’. By stating it that way people pretty much always act
      responsibly. If they have an axe to grind they will let you know and then
      deliver their message in a helpful way. At one session – the topic was very controversial – I remember one woman saying to another person at the table, ‘That’s BS, but I’d better not say what I’m thinking!’ I said, Please, speak your mind. The other person also said, ‘I want to hear your point.’ The resulting conversation (not debate) opened a whole area of insights that might not have happened.

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