Wednesday, 9 May 2018

Workplace Conflict can be Healthy

I read an article by Amy Gallo on HBR blog where she said that "we’ve come to equate saying 'I see it differently' or 'I don’t agree' with being angry, rude, or unkind" (3 January 2018). That is a very interesting statement.

Amy explains that there some great benefits to regularly stating our worries (Gallo, 3 January 2018). We Kiwis just need to remember to do that with respect and build our muscles slowly, as:
  • Our work results are improved if we keep hunting, arguing, teasing out ideas for better group solutions. We are likely to generate "creative friction". Amy states that "Conflict is uncomfortable, but it is the source of true innovation, and also a critical process in identifying and mitigating risks" (Gallo, 3 January 2018, citing CEO Liane Davey).
  • We get learning and development from challenge. From hearing others' perspectives and through "listening and incorporating feedback, [we] gain experience, try new things, and evolve". For this, we have to learn to trust, so we can welcome the opportunity to grow... not shrink from it.
  • Our team is more tightly knit. Work groups which can disagree positively learn greater trust and respect through "good fights". The ability to disagree is stimulating, and also teaches us to develop the ability to let go of 'bad' ideas and move on.
  • We get more job satisfaction. Being able to constructively say what we really think makes us feel more valued and increases our satisfaction. Aiming for win:win outcomes that are organisation-focused - not ego-centric - requires positive leadership though.
  • Our team becomes more inclusive. Amy says we need to stop thinking "that consensus is an end in and of itself. In a well-run diverse team, substantive disagreements do not need to become personal: Ideas either have merit [...] or they do not" (Gallo, 3 January 2018, citing a case by Parker, Medina, & Schill, 2017).
It is particularly difficult to disagree if you are a Kiwi. We are very, very poor at disagreeing, conflict, or speaking out. As a result, we have a national tendency to save up all our angst to spit out when we can't possibly hold it in any longer, and are feeling overwhelmed. We are "all good" and easy to deal with until we uncharacteristically blow up. This, of course, makes for excellent work relations.

There are better ways of saying that we are hesitant or have other views, and we can build good habits to voice those ideas in ways that aren't combative, hasty or downright explosive.

One way is to ask questions. A great way I have found of doing this is by using the naive inquirer model (Miller & Rollnick, 1991; Kuhn, 1970), which you can read about here

We can also have some stock phrases to help us start to ask more questions, such as:
  • "Interesting. Will everyone feel that way, do you think?"
  • "OK. Are there areas which might have trouble with that?"
  • "I get where you are heading and why. Can you tell me a bit more about the part where..."
  • "You make a very a valid point. I am worried about..."
Good luck!




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