Don't fear conflict: Run towards it

Ross Chapman
Ross Chapman
Head of Etch Sprints 6 May 20204 minutes read

The world of collaboration and teamwork is full of individuals solving problems. A conflict is a natural outcome of any decision-making process and can be a common occurrence within organisations. Some of your team may agree with a plan of action, whilst others won’t.

This is not a new concept. According to the 2008 report “Workplace Conflict and How Businesses Can Harness It to Thrive,” the following statistics demonstrate how pervasive conflict is in the workplace:

Leaders need to embrace conflicts as they arise and use them as an opportunity to align the team on the problem, understand it well, collect assumptions on how best to proceed and execute a solution. 

Sounds simple enough, so why then do many teams suffer from a fear of conflict?


1. People don’t like being proved wrong

Having an argument just to prove you are right doesn’t help anybody. Truth is, most people don’t like being proved wrong. 

Google encountered the concept of “psychological safety” in its Project Aristotle (the company’s internal investigation into what made its most high-performing teams).

“Psychological safety was first defined by academic Amy Edmondson, and describes the level of safety that teammates feel to be vulnerable, take risks and make mistakes in front of each other.” — Alison Coward

Encouraging vulnerability at work is a more positive direction to building trust within teams. The psychological barrier can be difficult for many to overcome, but once there, you can start to build trust.

Once team members are able to make mistakes in front of each other, then they can start challenging and critiquing, leading the way to deliver better outcomes. Meetings become less toxic and turn to be more like collaborative workshops, once the structure has been defined and the team are bought into the approach.

2. They are not fulfilled by their work

Simon Sinek, an author, speaker and consultant who writes about leadership and management, believes loving your work is a right and not a privilege. In other words, loving what you do at work shouldn’t be a lottery, and you didn’t draw the short stick. He states in his book Together is Better that you’re “going to have to learn to ask for help and accept it when it’s offered.”

If you find peoples defensiveness is frequently triggered at work, their job may not be as fulfilling as it should be. ‘Living for the weekend’ is a familiar quote I’ve heard many employees attest to, that signals to me a feeling of not being fulfilled in a role.

They could simply not be taking full control of their responsibilities, not progressing with their career and may simply be in the wrong role. Where we spend most of our time at work, we need fulfilment.

3. They’re afraid of confrontation

Not having a vested interest in the work that they do, some employees can fear being tested. “Can I talk to you in private” creates a siloed space to tell people what they need to hear, but in a safe way. At Etch, we believe in open communication as much as possible and failing fast to learn what works.

Employing techniques like Radical Candor can enable teams to have more meaningful conversations and start challenging each other. Thrive off confrontation!


Next story

This is the second in a five-part series, where we will dive into the common problems teams experience when working together and how to remedy these to unlock business value and resilience.

Over the series, we’ll cover Lencioni’s five dysfunctions :

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