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Want to increase morale? Increase conflict!

  Really? But we spend all our time avoiding conflict!

As the youngest child in a family of five, I’ve come to realize I’m conflict adverse. I didn’t really understand what lengths I would go to in order to maintain harmony. It was no one’s fault but my own. Finally, in my late 50’s, I began to really see all the ways that avoiding conflict for the sake of temporary harmony has not served me or those I love.

Just like in family life, choosing to maintain temporary harmony instead of really dealing with problems and hammering out the best solutions causes resentment and hard feelings in our professional lives. It causes people to pull away and disengage.

Now that I’ve learned how temporary discomfort can actually serve the greater good faster and with significantly better solutions, I am quick to recognize when client’s have chosen conflict avoidance over frank, honest discussions and how that pattern impacts the bottom line and morale!

Here is a quick quiz to determine if your organization is avoiding conflict:

Do you notice any of the following?

  • Employees talking about how stressed out they are?
  • Business discussions that end up with personal insults?
  • Drama created by indirect communication or gossip?
  • Rehashing the same problems over and over?
  • Focus on placing blame versus strategies for improvement?
  • Meetings where the same people do all the talking?
  • Tiptoeing around certain colleagues so as to not hurt feelings?
  • Developing complex workarounds just to keep the peace?

These are just some of the symptoms that develop when we work hard to avoid conflict. And these are some of the primary reasons that Human Resources, managers, and boards of directors call me.

These symptoms are, however, only that: they are just symptoms. The underlying issue is that individuals don't feel safe or have the skills to engage in healthy, productive conflict.

So if you answered yes to any of the questions from above, you aren't alone. And there is a simple fix. That fix does require everyone acknowledging the problem and becoming comfortable with healthy conflict.

Why conflict?

Teams that embrace and engage in healthy conflict are the ones that come up with the best possible solutions in the shortest amount of time. Their members leave intense meetings feeling satisfied, complete, and with no residual negative feelings. They view problems as challenges they are eager to put their heads and resources together to overcome.

Work groups that engage in healthy conflict tend to have lower turnover, even though an outsider observing them in the midst of a heated session may mistake their passion and energy as personal anger. With careful observation you will also notice that the dialogue is focused on coming up with the best possible solution for the group and not on personal gain or performance.

All high-performing team relationships (or any relationships for that matter) that last over time do so because the members understand the why and the how of healthy conflict. And they trust all members to participate in conflict in ways that take care of the group while focusing on getting to the best solution honestly and with accountability.

In my work with teams and leaders who complain about drama, distraction, wasted time, and lack of accountability, I always hear somewhere in the assessment process how they avoid direct communication, feedback, and conflict for fear of "hurting someone's feelings." I also hear from individuals who have too much on their plate, about crazy, complex workarounds that were created because holding one person accountable may upset that person.

In the unchecked mind, we all tend to believe thoughts that just aren't true. In the case of a team unskilled in healthy conflict the thought is frequently, "It is just easier to do it myself." This is the place where time is lost, accountability slides, morale begins to dip, and leaders quite frankly become resentful.

A few strategies to help you become more comfortable with conflict:

  1. Ask yourself, What do I most fear will happen if I speak my truth?
  2. Turn that fear around, and come up with a statement about what you most want to maintain or improve by having the conversation (I want to improve the work flow, or I want to have clearer communication).
  3. Remind yourself that the dialogue isn’t about who is right or wrong, it is about finding the best solution. Speak from that place.
  4. Be aware of when you find yourself becoming triggered, take a deep breath, and start again with your statement about what you most seek to maintain or improve as a result of the conversation.
  5. Don’t be afraid to admit that this is uncomfortable, and you are stretching a bit.

If you are experiencing any of the symptoms mentioned above, let's do a quick conflict assessment. We’ll get you more comfortable with conflict, and we’ll get your team back on track to being a cohesive unit with high morale who can engage in meaningful dialogue and problem-solving.