Productive Conflict has never been a particularly appealing management style for me. Having team members sit around and vent dissenting opinions just triggers resistance and defensiveness. In my experience, conflict just falls into unproductive time by each person invalidating one another as they argue back and forth. Does the following sound familiar – after someone speaks, you make no reference to what they said, instead jumping straight to your counterargument (or going off on a complete tangent)? All you end up with are hurt feelings and bruised egos. I have rarely seen tangible results from the process.
Instead of this snarky and often passive/aggressive approach, I recommend cold, calm logic. Here are a few pointers on how to argue your side of an issue without getting everyone bent out of shape:
- Always validate your teammate’s perspective, expertise, and feelings. You will keep the conflict focused on the issue, avoiding the pitched battle that comes when you intentionally or inadvertently invalidate someone.
- Accept two things when you are about to enter into debate: #1 – it’s valuable to hear different perspectives and that everyone is fully thinking an issue through, and #2 – the person you’re arguing against is adding value by presenting a unique point of view.
- Changes in your language will demonstrate the value you place in the other person’s point of view, without offending when you submit your counterargument, ie “Thanks for that great point, but let me throw out another example that is more to the point” . . . or “I appreciate you putting that on the table, but let’s talk about it in more detail to make sure it’s applicable.”
- Your words and body language must demonstrate that while you value everyone’s input, you aren’t necessarily agreeing with anyone or any one idea. It just means you’re listening and paying attention.
- Learn to pivot the conversation – “That’s a really important step we need to evaluate. In my opinion . . .” or “Thanks for raising that issue, but here’s where I’m having a problem with where that leads us . . “
Begin your side of any debate by validating your opponent’s position(s), keep the topic issue-focused and learn how to put your points out there without getting in anyone’s face. The overall tone of the conversation will improve and you will more rapidly get to where everyone wants to be going in the first place. You’ll then move more quickly to the points where there is mutual agreement and begin working towards positive solutions.
Check out this video of Fred Kofman, PhD. in Economics, Professor of Leadership at UFM as he explains how to remain true to yourself and, at the same time, open to your counterpart.