The Leadership Playbook: Three Rules for Constructive Conflict

Even though they can make some people uncomfortable, disagreements and arguments are a critical part of business. Without disagreements and arguments you get groupthink, and you end up with mediocrity. When you have constructive conflict and disagree about what is right, you get a chance to explore new ideas, even ideas that make some people uncomfortable.

But constructive conflict needs to be done in a way that is safe and beneficial to the organization. “Safe” means it can’t harm the individuals that make up the organization.

  • Assume good intentions: When someone disagrees with the way something is being done and engages with others around that issue, it is imperative that you assume that person has good intentions. By assuming they have good intentions, you can shift your focus to the value of the idea, instead of evaluating the individual who is brave enough to bring up the idea.
  • Don’t blame people for mistakes, problems, or challenges: A personal review is something different from constructive conflict, even though it might include some constructive conflict. When you blame the individual for the mistakes, the challenges, or the problems your business is experiencing, you cause people to operate from a place of fear. If you have to operate from fear, you are going to avoid constructive conflict because the repercussions are likely bad for you. Blaming people keeps organizations from solving their deepest problems, and it keeps them from growing.
  • Focus on generating new ideas, withholding judgment about any idea: When you do have constructive conflict, it’s easy to dismiss another person’s ideas without giving them a fair hearing. You can very quickly get to all the reasons that something can’t or shouldn’t be done. But this isn’t how you solve problems. You solve problems when you generate new ideas and explore them before you choose one.

The healthiest cultures invite arguments and disagreements. A culture that is strong can withstand the idea of change. There are no sacred cows that must be protected. And every issue is seen as an opportunity to grow, not something to be avoided because egos are too fragile or feelings too easily hurt. Constructive conflict is necessary, and it’s incredibly valuable when done well.

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