You dream of working easily and seamlessly with colleagues with little or no contention. Who really wants to work in a contentious environment? Surprisingly, little or no disagreement/conflict is a sign that your group is not as good as you think. When there is little if any open disagreement about matters of importance (mission, values, projects, and goals), your nice and easy culture is in trouble of complacency and of becoming irrelevant. The group becomes vulnerable to “group think” without the ability to thoroughly vet ideas and does not adapt quickly and strategically to changing conditions nor does it evolve rapidly enough to face handled new challenges. And you know without little outward disagreement your colleagues are expressing disagreement and discontent out of the light of day among themselves.
“Easy” working relationships and interactions tend to be superficial, Stepford-type communications that present a good face while hiding what you and your colleagues really think and feel. When you don’t express your real thoughts and concerns, interactions in the workplace are coated with the waxy build-up of unvoiced concerns, resentments, passive-aggressive behavior, disengaged employees, gossip, and scapegoating others. This sets you up for poor decisions based on untested beliefs and untried assumptions, which in turn increases stress, smothers innovation, derails growth, and allows incompetence to go unaddressed.
The result is a toxic culture with low trust even though you and your colleagues are outwardly nice to each other while putting down each other behind your backs.
The secret to turning this around? Confrontation.
Whoa! You have been raised to be non-confrontational. How can confrontation be good? Confrontation can be done in a respectful way where the emphasis is on really digging into the content of what others are proposing rather than attacking others personally.
Confrontation doesn’t need to be loud and forceful. It isn’t about making someone else wrong while you are right nor is it about winning. Instead, confrontation done right is about using the data that is known to question a process, a decision, an opinion, performance or behavior. Confrontation done right highlights other possible perspectives or interpretations without demeaning others. By confronting the completeness and interpretation of existing data, you stand a greater chance of having deeper, more meaningful discussions while de-personalizing the issue at hand.
Disagreement is natural when interacting with others because we don’t all think, believe, or act the same. Sadly, whether you’re trying to be PC or whether boat-rocking in general makes you queasy, the idea of confrontation gets a bad rap, mostly because you have seen it done badly for so long. The typical scene that pops into your head when hearing the word “confrontation” probably involves someone losing her cool by yelling, pounding a fist on a table, and/or even throwing something. That’s not the type of confrontation that is productive.
Handled appropriately, confrontation done right allows a department, work group, business unit, or team to vet differing opinions, ideas, and assumptions, which leads to greater clarity before a course of action is chosen. The result? A collegial climate in which you feel you can be transparent and vulnerable because the focus is on the good of the group rather than on protecting your ego by looking like a hero. Healthy confrontation creates an atmosphere where people are willing to forego the short-term relief of staying in a familiar rut in favor of long-term, meaningful impacts that will enable your company to adapt and thrive.
And that is why confrontation is the secret to your success.
WANT TO USE THIS ARTICLE IN YOUR NEWSLETTER, BLOG OR WEBSITE? You can, as long as you include this information with it: Beth Strathman is the advisor for senior leaders who get an edge on the competition by staying sharp and adaptable to increase productivity and profitability. Learn more about her company Firebrand Consulting LLC at: firebrandconsultingllc.com.