Reaping Benefits From Our Differences

Remove barriers through essential conflict resolution processes

Communication skills. Leadership abilities. Emotional and social intelligence. Today, organizations expect a lot from us – both as individuals and team members. Communication proficiency is crucial because it immediately affects our ability to get work done together and thus reach demanding goals.

Thrive on Disagreement
Counter-intuitive perhaps, but conflict – about truly important issues – can actually be beneficial in the workplace. I am referring to the kind of conflict that comes from contrary ideas of substance, not mere personality or style differences. In fact, negative reactions generally emerge from how we express and handle our personal diversity, not the variations themselves.

The conflict may arise because one of the best ways to stimulate creative juices is by rubbing your mind against others’ to produce new and improved concepts and procedures. As differences emerge, we need serviceable conflict resolution skills to manage them well. Then our organization flourishes, not despite the differences but because of them. This process is called “creative abrasion” and “fruitful dissent”.*

Only through sharing differing opinions, beliefs, experiences and goals can any group of people exceed their individual boundaries. Organizations – boards, teams, whole companies – who create ways to make the most of their diversity share a variety of essential characteristics*, such as having common goals firmly in place; basing discussion on facts rather than opinion; developing a wide range of options instead of just a few alternatives, and ensuring everyone feels comfortable speaking up. Not least among the common elements is humour; teams that can lighten up and let off steam among the whole group are also able to disagree, respectfully.

Create Positive Outcomes
Each of us has the power to select our response to people and circumstances. In fact, humans are the only beings on the planet able to separate stimulus from response to choose a reaction: in what manner will we engage, speak, listen, hear, interpret and respond? Our choices shape the outcome of our interactions and create an effect, either positive or negative.

At the most basic level, just the discovery of a different point of view can enable us to see something that had not occurred to us individually. Through sharing ideas openly, focused on what a person’s ideas have to offer – not his or her personality – we are able to generate fewer problems and greater benefits than any one of our preferences might have produced on its own.

Reap the Benefits
Understanding your own and others’ communication and conflict styles can help you to master the strategy of “creative abrasion”, and produce benefits for your organization. For teams, this means increased capacity to manage differences productively; for the organization, it means greater creativity and innovation from the members’ enhanced abilities.

*    How Management Teams Can Have a Good Fight”; Kathleen M. Eisenhardt, Jean L. Kahwajy, L.J. Bourgeois III; Harvard Business Review, July-Aug 1997.
*      “Putting Your Company’s Whole Brain to Work”, Dorothy Leonard and Susaan Straus; Harvard Business Review, July-August 1997
Copyright(c) 2015 Carol J. Sutton Cert.ConRes.

Good Communication = Big Payoff

Eliminate Barriers to Effective Communication to Reap Rewards

When I say “good communication” do you think I am talking about people being polite to each other?

Sure, that’s part of it. No one wants to collaborate with people who treat us rudely. And yet effective communication is so much more than that.

It is senior management having the confidence to allow employees to speak up about things going wrong without shooting the messenger. It is middle managers who make it safe for employees to push back – reasonably, of course – with empathy for the effort required to change. And it is employees who strive to make their greatest contribution, even when we feel we might be doing more than our share on any given day.

Why should anyone put all this effort into behaving in ways that help other people feel comfortable? Because it not only eliminates barriers to effective communication, this level of skill reduces the chances of unwarranted conflict arising. That makes it a crucial factor in managing people well, and good people management increases individual and group productivity, as well as quality levels.

Think of it as treating your employees right, demonstrating the behaviour you would like them to show toward the people who buy your products or services. Customer service expert Jeff Disend says,  “How companies act toward employees largely determines how well employees will serve customers.” *

There is no sense in taking employees through customer service training – or any other type for that matter – unless we allow them to exercise the new behaviours they have learned. Without permission to integrate the changes, people just snap right back to their previous ways.

So, who goes first? In Is Silence Killing Your Company, Leslie Perlow and Stephanie Williams look at the price of silence in several different types of organizations. They assert that, “We all have the power to express ourselves and to encourage others to speak freely. … We need to be willing to take the first step ourselves – to bring differences out into the open so that they can be explored.”

Bringing differences out into the open requires the confidence that can come from having mastered basic communication and conflict resolution skills. Their lack is often a barrier to effective communication as people retreat back into the silence.

*    How to Provide Excellent Service in Any Organization: A blueprint for making all of the theories work; Jeffrey E. Disend; 1991

*    Is Silence Killing Your Company, Leslie Perlow and Stephanie Williams (Harvard Business Review, May 2003)


Copyright(c) 2015 Carol J. Sutton Cert.ConRes.