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:
- 85% of employees deal with conflict on some level
- 29% of employees deal with it almost constantly
- 12% of employees say they frequently witness conflict among the senior team
- 49% of conflict is a result of personality clashes and “warring egos”
- 34% of conflict is caused by stress in the workplace
- 33% of conflict is caused by heavy workloads
- 25% of employees have seen conflict result in sickness or absence
- 9% have seen workplace conflict cause a project to fail
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!
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 :
- Absence of trust
- Fear of conflict
- Lack of commitment
- Avoidance of accountability
- Inattention to results
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