Conflict is still a word that has so many negative feelings attached to it. People use words like “scary”, “avoid” or even “hate” when asked to describe how they feel about conflict. However conflict spurs new ideas, it helps to create changes and it can act as a movement toward new amazing results.
Why does conflict get such a bad rap?
Mainly because people do not have the emotional intelligence to separate fact from fiction, story from reality or negative feelings from potential positive outcomes. Did you just want to defend your emotional intelligence? Did that direct of a statement put you on the defensive? Emotional intelligence is about having the capacity to be aware of, control and express your own emotions, while also being able to handle interpersonal relationships carefully and with empathy.
What would happen if?
When someone spoke in disagreement about something people heard the other side before shutting it down?
When someone disagreed with something someone else did or said, they asked questions to try and understand the other point of view?
When someone came up with a new idea, people would first consider its impact, potential and opportunity before saying no?
When someone had feedback on how to make your work better, you always heard with open ears and a curiosity that welcomed what the other was about to share?
We have, on average, 1000 thoughts per minute and too often we don’t filter through those thoughts efficiently or effectively. We are also so busy with those thoughts, we often don’t listen well either. That is what leads to potential conflict.
What the best leaders do differently is; they can file through their thoughts faster, with more intention and with more empathy then others. That is why they are the best at what they do! They simply are stronger at deciding what to say and when to say it. They are stronger at blocking out thoughts that are destructive. They truly listen and try to understand not only the words the person is saying, but also there non-verbal and para-verbal messages as well. They empathize and try to understand with a different level of intensity.
How can we take these amazing leadership qualities and create a workplace or team that allows for everyone to embrace these skills? Create a culture of feedback. When people become more accepting of feedback, and more committed to delivering it, it is the first step in then being confident enough to challenge ideas. Creating a culture of feedback is step 1 in creating a culture of positive conflict!
Here are just a few ideas to get you started!
- Set Feedback expectations
As early into the employment relationship (in the interview if possible), start to establish what feedback looks like for you and your organization. Create expectations about who gives feedback, how often it is to be given, what the process for feedback will be etc. When you do this it becomes the norm instead of the exception. When something is the norm, people naturally begin to expect it and are less likely to associate the negative feelings that can sometimes come with feedback. As people become more comfortable with not only giving but receiving feedback, they will be more willing to challenge ideas and not just go with the status quo. This level of comfort around conflict creates change!
- Nurture a growth mindset
When you foster a growth mindset in the work environment people are less likely to associate the negative feelings that can come from a fixed mindset. How do you nurture a growth mindset? Create a culture of “yet”. If someone doesn’t have a skill or competency that is needed to perform, assume they don’t have it “yet”. See their potential for growth. Create opportunities for people to be creative and try new things, without them doing anything “wrong”. Encourage failing at things. Encourage people to try things outside of their comfort zone. Encourage these things by getting people to appreciate the lessons and not just the result.
- Make it routine
If you can create a routine of feedback it will become easier. That may mean scheduling it into meeting agenda’s. Or sending out emails requesting feedback stories. There are a lot of ways to make feedback routine, when it is part of the daily, weekly, or monthly tasks it will not come across as intimidating. Just make it a consistent expectation.
- Train on how to give great feedback
Feedback is a skill, often not taught and even less practiced. Don’t expect people to just “know how to do it”. Instead you need to set people up with tools. Create a list of questions for routine situations in your workplace, so people can use it as a model of what you are looking for. Role play. Perfect practice makes everything easier. Create a framework for communicating feedback that will give people a road map of what to say, and how to say it. If you create “cues” it can help them in situations where they have to think on their feet, as they can go back to the road map anytime in any situation!
- Make feedback based decisions visible
When decisions or changes are made because of feedback people have given, make sure it is known. It will show that people feedback is valued and listened too. The biggest way to encourage more feedback is to get people engaged in the results that come from it. If people feel the feedback is falling on deaf ears, they will be less likely to keep offering it. Be thankful for feedback and show people how appreciative you are of their ideas.
When you create a culture of feedback, you create an atmosphere that is safe. You can not ask for a better engagement tool.