Workplace conflict happens all the time: Individuals disagree. Teams compete. Employees bicker. Executives go head to head.
In fact, conflict eats up more than two hours of each employees’ time weekly. That’s to the tune of about $359 billion in paid hours, according to the CPP Global Human Capital Report. Those are hours focused on conflict, which can create a toxic workplace, instead of on positive productivity.
Fortunately, a lot of conflict can be healthy.
The key to good fights: Challenge ideas to gain better understanding of the situation. If employees are trained, they can work together to create positive solutions and make better decisions, Harvard Business School researchers found.
Help employees avoid no-win arguments and personal attacks with these six tactics that good fighters use:
Work with more information
When there’s conflict, everyone involved needs to start with the same information.
People want to gather as much background details as possible, then:
- require everyone involved in the debate absorb it
- note what they feel is most important, and
- list what else they’d like to know.
Then they can keep gathering information. A healthy supply of up-to-date data can move personality- and agenda-based debates back to objective-driven conversations.
Establish common goals
Before a group or two people even start to talk about the existing information, project or problem, establish a goal. Sure, it may have been laid out for everyone – for instance, redesign the campaign, solve the quality problem, plan the fiscal year, etc.
But the group needs to establish a clear, common goal that includes the:
- desired result
- time line for incremental and end results
- individual expectations
- means to monitor progress, and
- measure of success.
Maintain conflict structure
The best debating and results still come from a balanced corporate structure. Democracy is less important than teamwork, the researchers say.
Effective teams still need empowered leaders who maintain some control. Then people are less likely to fight for position and more likely to focus on making fair decisions.
So managers or HR facilitators may need to step in to oversee or just observe potentially volatile discussions that can lead to unhealthy workplace conflict.
Multiply the options
Groups or pairs that come up with more alternatives have better, more authentic debates, researchers found.
People who only consider two options tend to divide into camps that waste time in heated debate. On the other hand, those who introduce several options spend more valuable time and energy coming up with and comparing creative solutions.
Then they hit the bullseye sooner and with less tension.
Humor relieves tension and helps teams avoid unnecessary debates. Humor promotes collaboration and heightens the thrill of the challenge.
But a good time doesn’t always happen naturally. So leaders and team members want to make an effort to add humor.
If situations get tense, it might be time for a fun break or self-deprecating comment (which is often the most effective humor leaders can use).
One caveat: Anyone who isn’t comfortable making appropriate jokes should refrain. A strained joke that’s told at the wrong time or in the wrong context is worse than no humor at all.
Resolve, consensus or not
A good fight usually doesn’t end in consensus. Instead, and better yet, it ends with the best decisions and outcomes.
So don’t consider a unanimous decision the only win.
For that to happen, people want to talk over the issue and try to agree. If that doesn’t happen, the most relevant leader makes the final decision based on everyone’s input.
Then everyone is encouraged to share ideas and concerns, knowing how the final decision will be made.
The fight has ended, and you’re ready to move forward.