Monday, November 19, 2018

Why We Need More Fights at Work

There's no shortage of fighting these days -- whether it's the WWE or a cable news show.

In real life, many people avoid fighting. They will turn their backs on a fuming co-worker or not respond to snarky emails at work. Or, they may simply hold up their hands in surrender during a contentious team meeting and back away from a disagreement simply because they don't want to fight.

You may take such action because you hate fighting -- it's bad enough to have a 15-minute argument every morning with your child because she doesn't want to wear shoes to school. You feel like there's enough disagreement in the world, and you just don't want to add to it.

But what if you're making everything worse by not fighting? What if you could make your life -- and those of your colleagues -- better by fighting?

Adam Kahane is author of "How to fight in a Productive Way." He has plenty of experience in some serious battles -- he works with Mexican leaders to help them develop solutions to the country's issues such as a lack of security and equality. As director of Reos Partners, an international consultancy that helps people work together on their most contentious issues, he says that avoiding conflict and differences isn't a good strategy.

The reason: Those differences will just "fester and erupt later with greater violence."

While we probably won't see violence erupt in the workplace with most spats, Kahane's point is still valid: That we need to be ready to challenge others and be open to being challenged right back. When we avoid challenges, we stagnate. We don't learn anything new.

Here are some ways he suggests we can embrace "useful" fighting:

  • Diversify. Teams need to have members of different strengths and perspectives. An IT team, for example, shouldn't just be IT people. Throw in some marketing or human resource people and vise versa. More teams need to have members willing to say: "I think that's a mistake," or "I don't think that makes sense because....."
  • Slow down. Many workplace decisions are made because a team is under deadline pressure or feels compelled to mark something off the "to do" list and move on. But Kahane points out that the workshops of Mexican leaders always included a "get to know you" activity such as having dinner together or two people with differing opinions taking a walk. Spending that time together can lessen anxieties and lead to a shifting of thoughts so that people are more open to one another and perhaps change their positions a bit.
  • Understand that you're not the boss of me. The best way to get people to work together to reach a decision is that you cannot allow any of them to have more decision-making control than someone else. The only way to get change is that each team member must change himself or herself.

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