In Jason’s most recent post, he mentioned the importance of setting rules for conflict. Based on what I see and hear in the workplace, conflict done well is a fairly rare thing. Many teams (and many leaders) don’t know how to do it well so they either do it poorly, or more commonly, they avoid serious disagreement at all costs.
Disagreement is not only natural between people, it is also valuable. It’s the engine that drives robust social processes such as decision-making and problem-solving. Innovation is often a product of the intersection—the place where different perspectives, different heuristics, and different experiences crash into each other.
When you and your team come together to discuss things that matter, do you have disagreement? Or do you have dishonesty?
Conflict is always going to be hard; it is likely the hardest thing that we do together. But, it’s also one of the most important, and we can certainly make it safer than it is in more workplaces.
Have a conversation with your team about the importance of conflict and of doing it well. We don’t want to fight tooth and nail over every topic that comes up (we’re not trying to be Congress after all), but we also don’t want to be wallowing in groupthink and dishonesty.
Talk about differing individual approaches to and comfort levels with conflict. This allows you to think proactively about how to support your team so that they are able to do well together.
Set expectations for what kind of disagreement is allowed and what isn’t allowed.
Set expectations for how everyone is expected to communicate with each other. I have always liked the assertive communication model, as it helps with group disagreement and also with individual relationships.
Model the behaviors you are looking for, reward people when they do well, and coach them when they fall short. Fighting is still hard, but you can likely make it much safer than it appears to be today.