Everyone knows that person at the office, the one who loves conflict: he’s the one who’s always butting heads with everyone, engaging people from the CEO to the summer intern on everything from the quarterly report to the outcome of last week’s game. And then there’s you — the nice guy. The problem is, if you’re too nice to deal with conflict at all, people are going to get Mr. Blowhard’s perspective a lot more than they get yours.
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That’s just one reason why it’s important to get comfortable with conflict, even if you’d rather do just about anything else.
“Teams need conflict to function effectively,” writes Liane Davey at Harvard Business Review’s Blog Network. “Conflict allows the team to come to terms with difficult situations, to synthesize diverse perspectives, and to make sure solutions are well thought-out. Conflict is uncomfortable, but it is the source of true innovation and also a critical process in identifying and mitigating risks.”
To do that, she says, we need to redefine “nice,” so that it doesn’t exclude conflict. And how do we do that?
1. Use your “and.”
“I understand what you’re saying AND I’m concerned about the possible impact on X” is a lot more positive than “I understand what you’re saying BUT I’m concerned.” By reframing things as a positive statement, you’re less likely to inspire your colleague to be defensive, which allows you to work together to get things done.
2. Ask about the impact.
What do people usually say, when they don’t like someone else’s plan? The worst-case scenario that might result from it, e.g. “The company will lose money.” Instead of jumping right to the result you fear the most, ask the other person for their perception of how things will go. That way, you’re engaging in conversation, instead of dismissing their idea.
3. Ask for help.
“Another tactic for ‘nice conflict’ is to be mildly self-deprecating and to own the misunderstanding,” says Davey. “If something is really surprising to you (e.g., you can’t believe anyone would propose anything so crazy), say so. “I’m missing something here. Tell me how this will address our sales gap for Q1.”
Davey presents more ways to (nicely) engage in confrontation in her column. It’s definitely worth a read if you want to have your ideas heard, but don’t want to give up your nice-guy status around the office.
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