People want to feel like their opinions are valued. They also want to work somewhere they feel psychologically safe. However, in our polarized society differing viewpoints can turn to arguments fast. Some managers feel like they’d be safer walking through a field of land mines than encouraging team members to share their opinions.
Successful leaders know how to create an inclusive work environment so people feel like they can share without getting attacked. They understand how to allow, sometimes even encourage healthy disagreements because they can lead to outside-the-box thinking.
Re-Frame Thinking on Differences
When someone disagrees with us, feeling threatened is a common response. We may have to give up an opinion or ideal we believe is “right.” The other person seems to think they know better than we do and it’s hard not to take that personally. We might be about to experience open hostility. It’s unpredictable and uncomfortable.
That tension and defensiveness cause us to shut down. We’re no longer listening to others; instead we’re preparing our stand or looking for a graceful retreat.
But it doesn’t have to be that way. In the workplace among professionals, it shouldn’t be. When individuals feel safe, creative tension can lead to learning and innovation.
The first step is becoming aware of our emotional reaction to differences of opinion. If we start to feel tension when we realize someone has a different viewpoint, that tension can act as a trigger to become defensive or it can trigger introspection.
Encourage team members to recognize that tension over differing viewpoints signals opportunity. It means other perspectives or ideas are present. Workers have a chance to add to their knowledge and experience. It’s possible to share opposing views without determining that one person is right or wrong, good or bad, the winner or loser.
Conflict Isn’t Always Bad
Most of us have been in a situation where the majority wanted to move one direction and we weren’t so sure that was best, but we didn’t speak up. Conforming feels like forcing yourself into a mold you were never meant to fit, but sometimes the pressure to do so is intense.
Scaffold the development of better people skills so workers feel encouraged to express their opinions and understand disagreement is okay. Encourage individuals to learn to temporarily suspend the need to be right and instead look for common purposes.
As a team or organization, brainstorm ways to communicate respectfully even when individuals feel that tension. Allow workers to create behavioral guidelines for communicating differences of opinion. Document those guidelines, agree together to follow them, and keep them handy to reference as needed.
Then, start to invite discussions, healthy debates and exchanges. Try not to jump in at the first sign of tension. A competitive environment can be a good thing, and teams that have experienced conflict and worked through it develop a deeper respect for each other’s strengths.
Have Private Conversations
Sometimes you know individuals are too far apart on an issue, all sides have innovative ideas, and there isn’t time to come to a meeting of the minds. In that situation, don’t hold an open discussion.
Instead, have one-on-one conversations or ask for written input from individual contributors. It’s also a good idea to have a formal process for employees to privately submit opinions and suggestions even when you’re not asking for them.
Manage Strong Personalities as Needed
It can seem like the people most in need of sensitivity training are the least interested in reining in their abrasive behaviors. Others might describe them as brilliant but toxic, an antisocial genius, someone who does good work but engages in inappropriate or destructive behavior.
Sometimes leaders have to be the bouncer. That doesn’t mean you have to threaten to send that employee home for the day every time they get cantankerous, but you will have to find ways to keep their negativity from destroying the innovative, inclusive culture you’re trying to create.
Meet with that person or group privately to see if there are personal issues or misconceptions causing them to be unnecessarily combative. Give them prompt, critical feedback and work with them to identify specific behaviors that make open sharing impossible. Review the guidelines your group agreed on. Prompt them to make apologies if they crossed lines and coach them on how they can handle conversations in a more positive manner next time.
Hire the Right Employees
Sometimes certain individuals just aren’t a good fit, and that makes things difficult for everyone. Brelsford Personnel works with East Texas businesses to find employees that are a good match for their existing culture and who have the communication and people skills necessary to be successful in their role. If you would like to know more about working with us, send us a message online.