This is a blog by Jeff Perry, MBA
Most of us, when we think about conflict, consider it a bad thing we should avoid. That’s not exactly true.
The right kind of conflict can actually build trust and increase performance in teams! In fact, I would say that one of the best indicators of a team that trusts each other is the amount of conflict in the team.
Positive, healthy conflict happens when we can challenge each other in real ways, be open and honest, and collaborate more effectively.
Disagreements Are Normal and Should Be Encouraged
There is no situation or team that is going to sail through all projects and tasks without ever disagreeing with each other. Yet one of the things that can build divisions and trouble in a teams faster than anything is when people don’t feel heard and able to express disagreements, especially with leaders.
The best teams I have ever worked on were teams where people felt safe to disagree and challenge each other. No one person had all the answers. Disagreements meant that we were committed to finding the best solution together. Doing so and keeping the environment positive helped build trust as we learned how to work through issues together without taking it personally.
This continues to be a difficult concept for me to embrace because I’m naturally conflict-averse. I do not typically enjoy challenging others — it’s easier to be agreeable. Avoiding the conflict feels safer.
But doing that is not actually helpful.
It is always better for my relationships to create an environment where it is safe to disagree. We can work through the issue, talk about the problem, evaluate root cause, etc. Then, when we decide together, we can be united and commit to it together.
What is the alternative? Disagreeing but not saying anything about it, which leads people to go off, grumble to themselves and others, and create rifts in the team. That is not going to work!
Be open, honest, and share what you feel. Do it because it is better for the team and organization, not just because it is what you want.
How You React to Conflict Matters
If we are to build trusting cultures and relationships, how we react when people disagree or bring up challenges matters a lot. In order to create an environment where people feel safe to disagree, you cannot react with reprimands or harassment when you are challenged. In fact, you should completely acknowledge and consider the differing opinion.
It is up to the leader to do that — lead. In fact, effective leaders should be seeking out and asking for ideas and opinions that are different from theirs. This reminds me of a great quote from Simon Sinek:
“Bad leaders care about who is right. Good leaders care about what is right.”
Get your ego out of the way and look for the right answer rather than trying to be personally right all the time. You will be surprised by how much more honest and trusting your team will be if you do.
Disagreement and conflict can be a healthy part of your team. Seek out differing opinions, be open to new ideas, and react kindly and with respect when you are challenged.
In doing so, you can build teams with greater trust and psychological safety that are committed to creating something great together!
About Jeff Perry, MBA
Jeff Perry is a leadership/career coach for engineers, building mindsets, leadership, and career intentions to unlock hidden potential and remove self-imposed roadblocks for career and life. For years, he has had the pleasure of supporting engineers and software pros, from new grads to director level. Having been on the front lines in the technical world, he has been able to map out the necessary skills for becoming a quality leader in the field.
You can connect with Jeff on LinkedIn at https://www.linkedin.com/in/jeffcperry/ or visit his website, https://morethan-engineering.com. Jeff also has a new, FREE, on-demand training course for engineers who are job searching or in job transitions. You can see it at https://engineeringcareeraccelerator.com.
New To Technical Leadership?
The transition from individual contributor to technical leader is a difficult one. Jeff put together a FREE, 90-day guide for those moving through this transition to help them be as successful as possible. You can get it here: https://morethan-engineering.com/career-clarity
Please leave your comments, feedback or questions in the section below.
To your success,
Anthony Fasano, PE, LEED AP
Engineering Management Institute
Author of Engineer Your Own Success