4 Easy Ways Nice People Can Embrace Productive Conflict

If you back away from conflict with your teammates, you’re contributing to team dysfunction.

I find that team members who like to think of themselves as good, nice, people are just as likely to be at fault in unhealthy teams as are their aggressive, combative colleagues. That’s because these people shy away from open, healthy conflict about the issues.

To the Conflict Avoidant: Do you have a mind of your own? I expect so, I hope so! And yet you withhold this value from the team. If you think you’re “taking one for the team” by not rocking the boat, you’re deluding yourself.

Tips for the Conflict Avoidant

If you really struggle to embrace conflict, try these quick tips.

  1. Express your contrary opinion as an “and.”  It’s not necessary for someone else to be wrong for you to be right. “I hear that you think we need to leave room in the budget for a customer event AND I’m concerned that we need that money for employee training. What are our options?” 
  2. Use hypotheticals. If you don’t feel comfortable being assertive, try asking your teammates to imagine a different scenario. “I hear your concern about getting the right sales people to pull off this campaign. If we could get the right people…what could the campaign look like?
  3. Talk about the impact of actions. Rather than disagreeing with the plan, help your teammates think through the consequences by asking good open-ended questions about the impact. “Ok, we’re contemplating launching this product to only our U.S. customers. How is that going to land with our two big customers in Latin America?”
  4. Ask about the underlying issue. If you disagree with a proposed action, start with discussion by trying to understand the rationale. If you understand the reason for the action, you might be able to find another way to accomplish the same goal. “I’m surprised you suggested we release the sales figures to the whole team. What is your goal in doing that?”

Having conflict—presenting a different point of view—is critical. Diversity of thinking on a team is the source of innovation and growth. It is also the path to identifying and mitigating risks. If you find yourself shying away from conflict, use one of these techniques to make it a little easier.