Our two most recent e-newsletters addressed the principles and reflective steps that set you up to address differences effectively. This article encourages you to set a high standard when it comes to preventing and resolving the costly conflict that causes people to disengage or withhold their full contribution.
If no one in your workplace is throwing a tantrum or slamming a door or chewing someone out, you may not realize that’s always just the tip of the iceberg. Most conflict in business is very subtle and quiet. Even the organizational cultures we deem most healthy have a tremendous amount of side-conversations about others who are not present. You might call it conflict-avoidance, but it is still a form of conflict and quite costly.
One of our clients referred to this phenomenon as “withholding.” People have concerns and upsets they believe they cannot talk about. They believe they have little or no power to negotiate for what will help them be more productive. When we looked at this dilemma more deeply, we realized there are always two sides of the street contributing to the lack of open, honest, respectful communication. Obviously, those withholding must learn to speak up in a manner that moves problem-solving forward. However, when those they are trying to speak to interrupt, scowl, or listen impatiently, they cannot understand what it’s like to live in the other person’s shoes. Communication and problem solving then come to a halt.
It doesn’t take much for people in support roles to feel disempowered by those who have more power. Organizational leaders, brilliant engineers, and salespeople can be labeled as higher class citizens and deemed to be unapproachable or untouchable. These authority figures have two battles to fight when it comes to creating a safe enough culture that not just allows, but welcomes, the disempowered to find their voice. First, they must learn to manage their own communication style and express their emotions and needs in a manner that invites further inquiry into what’s not working. Second, they must know that most people have historical baggage with previous authority figures they are still playing out in their communication with them – just because that’s the pattern that helped them survive in their last job, in 4th grade, or wherever it started.
So, both parties in this disempowerment/withholding dilemma have work to do on their own side of the street before direct, authentic communication can replace gossip, after-hours venting, and complaining to the wrong people; but who goes first? Anyone can, and some support people have the confidence to break through this impasse, but the larger responsibility to create a culture of trust and mutual respect rests with the leadership team. Otherwise, disempowerment becomes disengagement, which diminishes your organization’s contribution to the world. Of course, your profitability suffers as well.
Even in a healthy culture, there’s more waste occurring than you realize. Why not take your game to the next level by coaching your leaders to welcome input on whatever people think is undiscussable but important.? Our white paper on Conflict Prevention and Resolution will help you get started. To read the entire article please click here.