How to turn employee conflict into a positive, productive force

August 30, 2010
in Managing & Communicating

If you manage a team that’s stuck in a rut or not working up to its full potential, it may have nothing to do with the drive and talent of the participants. They all may want to succeed and be giving 100% effort, but the results can still disappoint.

The problem could be conflict—not too much, but too little.

When managers assemble a team for the first time, they often assume that too much dissension within a group may rip it apart. They might plead with the members to “be courteous to each other” or “don’t argue.” They figure that if everyone smiles and plays nice, great results will follow.

In fact, conflict-avoidance teams tend to avoid making tough decisions. They may “go along to get along,” nodding politely and agreeing with everyone else’s opinion without exercising much independent thought. The group adopts a “make no waves” mentality, whereby disagreements are brushed aside and harmony rules.

Sometimes, this scenario is fed by a manager’s resistance to ask tough questions or push employees outside of their comfort zones. Managers may inadvertently send the message to their employees that they only want “yes men” on their team.


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Managers sometimes “overdirect” employees to the point where they’re scared to think independently or voice objections. Or, if employees conclude that you frown on conflict and seek blind obedience, they’ll roll over rather than take risks. They’ll see a team’s role as rubber-stamping rather than working toward consensus.

To light a fire under your employees, banish any signs of excessive conflict avoidance. Open the floodgates and encourage people to speak freely and clash openly. Constantly ask others at the table, “Do you agree with that idea—if not, why?”

Remember: Firm but civil disagreements indicate a vibrant, ambitious and creative team. Take every opportunity to promote healthy debate among your employees. Then, if you truly listen to their ideas and act on their suggestions, you’ll empower them to have a real stock in the team’s success.

Note: Studies show that nearly 50% of business decisions are ultimately considered “failures.” And over 75% of employees and managers miss opportunities because they can’t make decisions fast enough. For advice on solving problems quickly with sharper insights and stress-free success, see our guide:  Decision-Making: A Six-Step Guide to Choosing Your Best Option

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