Things are chugging along at ABC Corporation. Profits are up, and everyone seems content. In fact, you can’t remember the last time one of your leaders had a serious disagreement with another. As CEO, that should make you pretty happy. But is there a downside to all this harmony?

No conflict at all should make you very nervous. A certain amount of discord is to be expected in a dynamic, innovative workplace. If it isn’t present, you need to find out why. You may even have to encourage productive conflict in order to foster more engagement and creativity.  When is it okay to stir the pot?

When it’s there already. Some conflict lies below the radar of top leaders. Dig deeper to find out what is really going on. You may be surprised to find that people who seem to “get along” have subterranean conflicts that impact their ability to get the job done.

When there’s stagnation. Your company has operated like a well-oiled machine for years. Fresh ideas are an endangered species. No organization can survive in this coma for long. Shake things up!

When a problem must be solved. Lasting fixes require diverse input,  open-mindedness and commitment. A repressed, conflict-free workplace will only generate predictable, mediocre solutions. When people harbor secret reservations, they may nod in agreement, but not be totally committed to implementation. Any solution is nearly guaranteed to fail.

How do you stir the pot the right way?

DON’T play games. Some bosses actually pit people against each other in hopes that healthy competition will produce innovation. Usually, this game just produces back-biting and grudges between opponents, not the fruitful interplay of ideas.

DO model productive conflict. Make sure people know the organization supports people sharing their views openly and expects that conflict may arise. When you’re involved in a disagreement, lead by example.

DON’T make it personal. The conflict rulebook must include no personal attacks, aggression, disrespect or retaliation.

DO focus on tasks. Make sure that people are aligned first on what you are trying to achieve. Then work through the differences of opinion on how to get there. Value listening to understand more than getting your own point across.

Approach this topic understanding that people perceive conflict very differently. Some people hate disagreements and may fear that you’ll endorse a “no-holds-barred” approach. Other people can’t wait to get in there and win at all costs. Strong leadership, specific expectations and ongoing guidance will ensure that people say what needs to be said and get on with the job of high performance.

Have a question or want some input from Humanergy about this topic? Contact us and we’ll get right back to you!