Using Conflict to Increase Innovation

The more you motivate your team to challenge ideas the greater the likelihood that you will acquire innovative and creative ideas from your team.

Conflict is an important part of fostering innovation, yet many teams are unable to take advantage of this creative endeavor because they lack the skills to disagree respectfully while engaging in a spirited discussion.

Using conflict and difference to foster innovation
is an important skill that every leader, manager,
and director should know how to facilitate
.

As we’ve discussed in the last two posts, when left unmanaged, conflict is a deterrent to creativity. People shouldn’t be allowed to be disrespectful or mean to one another. Yet, often due to their own anxiety, leaders don’t interrupt negative conflict. When that happens it’s not safe to have constructive conflict.

With constructive conflict you can:
  • Explore interests and perspectives
  • Consider outcomes that are great for the organization
  • Develop options to consider, create criteria for deciding, or decide to decide later
  • Use objective criteria and a strategic vision to go beyond limitations set by “group think”

We worked with a director once who had heard that conflict was good for innovation. So, not being fully aware of the concept, he decided to incite arguments between his marketing team and sales team.

He thought if they really hated one another they would be creative. Unfortunately, this was disastrous for him and for the teams he was supposed to be leading. He needed to create opportunities for constructive conflict, not just create negative conflict.

So, let’s talk about how to create opportunities for constructive conflict:
  • Ask that people take the opposite view of what’s been shared. Say something like, “Now let’s play the devil’s advocate” or “Let’s find the weak seams in what’s just been said.”
  • Encourage questions that “poke holes” in ideas.
  • Insist that every good idea also has a reason why it’s a bad idea. An easy way to do this is to explore the benefits of an idea and then explore the concerns that people have about the idea. You can see the full framework here: Benefits, Concerns, Suggestions.
Remember, when someone says something that others react to negatively, don’t shut the conversation down. Instead, coach them through the moment by saying something like, “Interesting idea, it’s unconventional and that’s what I’m looking for. What other ideas do you have?”
  • Always interrupt negative conflict. Don’t tolerate snide comments or outbursts.
  • Always remind people to attack the problem, not the person speaking.

This takes practice, but the more you motivate your team to challenge ideas the greater the likelihood that you will acquire innovative and creative ideas from your team.

This week, look for opportunities to increase creativity and innovation through constructive conflict.

If you’d like to create more opportunities
for creative conflict and would like some
support in getting started, contact us today
about our Executive Coaching.

Managing Workplace Conflicts: Shifts in Behavior

You, your team, and your organization are not dysfunctional because you have conflict. Conflict is a part of being human!

Last week, in our post, Managing Workplace Conflicts: Shifts in Focus, we started with “Let’s be honest, if an organization has more than one person, it’s likely there will be conflict and tension.”

A number of you reached out to us to say that just that one sentence had been powerful as it reminded you that you, your team, and your organization are not dysfunctional because you have conflict. Conflict is a part of being human!

It’s so helpful to normalize just how messy all of us are. As we said, “As humans, we’re navigating the organizational agenda, our professional agenda, others’ professional agendas, our personal agenda, others’ personal agendas, etc.”

The shifts in focus we discussed last week can help people make the shift from conflict to problem solving.

This week, we’re sharing some shifts in behaviors that will help you individually, or you as a manager help others become more effective when tensions rise

Don’t take it personally. Yes, this is easier said than done!

  • It’s important to remember that most of the time you’re experiencing tension with someone else, it’s because they’re wrapped up in their own head about what’s going on. They’re afraid or worried about looking bad, and so you get caught up in that fear.
  • It’s important to take a moment and Pause.

Pause, and ask yourself, “Is what I am about to say or do in alignment with my goals?” Reacting is not helpful.

  • Pausing lets you respond with thoughtfulness and professionalism.
  • Pausing to get clear is critical in today’s fast-moving business world. We need time to collect our thoughts and ensure that we’re moving forward responsibly and not with reactivity.
  • To do that you need to Listen.

Listen deeply, stay curious, and ask for clarification. Your job is to try and understand what others are experiencing so that you can respond appropriately to them.

  • After you’ve listened fully and understand the perspective of the other person you can then share your experience.

Name and deal with feelings. It’s fine to describe your experience of anger and frustration, but acting that anger out by being mean, insulting or disrespectful is not.

  • Use I statements.
  • People feel what they feel, but in the workplace the expectation is that they learn from their feelings (and the data those feeling provide) and then move professionally forward together.

Be attentive and respectful in your non-verbal communication

  • People believe non-verbal cues more than verbal ones.
  • If your words are collaborative, but your arms are crossed and you’re scowling, you’re going to undo all you have done to defuse the conversation.

Focus on the future. Most people are conflict avoidant; so, like you, they want to move to a more comfortable and collaborative place.

  • Focusing on the future allows you to shift from current tension and think about what you can do together going forward.

We recently worked with a mid-level manager who was stressed out due to the amount of conflict in her team. Her stance (until now) had been to ignore it, which was only making it worse.

By tolerating the behaviors, she was inadvertently supporting them. So, we coached her to be more comfortable with intervening in the conflict.

She needed to distance herself from it so that she wasn’t taking it so personally, and then she needed to listen deeply to what was going on within her team.

By teaching her behaviors that she could utilize when she felt stuck in her own fear and anger, she was able to interrupt the cycle of unproductive conflict that was distracting her team from the real work at hand.

This week, take some time to familiarize yourself with the behaviors listed above and see if you can find opportunities to practice some of them so that they’re not foreign to you when you need them in a real conflict situation.

Stay tuned for next week’s post where we’ll talk about how you can use conflict to increase innovation.

If you’d like support in putting these principles
into action to manage conflict at work,
contact us today about our Executive Coaching.