Have you noticed a lack of social civility these days? Everywhere I look it seems people have self-selected into various camps and are not interested in what anyone else has to say. It seems impossible to have a civilized discussion on anything beyond the weather. This situation is affecting young people too. You know, the ones who may be joining your team soon. We hear of colleges who refuse to allow anyone with an opposing view to speak on campus and students demanding a “safe space” in case they hear something that might offend them or run counter to their world-view. Conflict is to be avoided at all costs. This is a recipe for disaster for your team and your company.
The raw and increasingly unpopular truth is that conflict is good when properly managed. Opposing viewpoints are worth considering. Team members who don’t agree with you are not evil.
To prevent your team from becoming polarized and uncivil establish definite policies and be diligent and fair about enforcing them. Make sure new team members clearly understand what you expect. Remember, you aren’t trying to avoid conflict. You are keeping conflict positive and related to the task at hand.
- Avoid hot button topics in the office that are not related to the job. Heed the old saying about not discussing politics or religion. I enjoy a good political discussion, and we should be able to have those kinds of discussions without destroying relationships, but it doesn’t seem possible these days so don’t even start.
- Stick to the issue at hand. A discussion about budget allocation should not include comments about Joe’s behavior on Mary’s team.
- Be accountable. There’s a saying that success has many fathers but failure is an orphan. Nothing will cause bad conflict to spin out of control faster than attempts to assign blame.
- Encourage discussion of the issue at hand, but keep the discussion on track. As General George Patton said, if everyone is thinking alike then someone isn’t thinking. The team leader should see a big red flag when a major decision is made with no discussion.
- Be very clear about vision, mission, and goals. The most highly functioning teams are those which believe in the leader’s vision and pull together to achieve the team’s mission and goals. Ensuring that all members understand their individual importance to accomplishing the mission and goals is the best way to encourage good conflict and prevent bad conflict.
The pendulum of social discourse may eventually swing, but you and your team can’t wait for that. Take action now to encourage good conflict.