Can’t We All Just Get Along? Should We?

We all do it. And we do it more than we should. No, we’re not talking about making New Year’s resolutions that we don’t keep; we’re talking about avoiding conflict in the workplace. We bite our tongues when we should more readily express our opinions or perspectives. We hesitate to disagree or we go along with a questionable consensus. We suppress or minimize what rightfully bothers us to “keep the peace.”

Psychological and cultural drivers like fear, respect for authority, and our desire for acceptance, inclusion, and safety are responsible. Reasonable motivators, to be sure. Yet sometimes conflict in the workplace is valuable and important to address in an honest, straightforward, and timely fashion. Though no employee or team would sign up for an atmosphere of continual conflict and tension, engaging in communicative conflict with a productive purpose is often a positive ingredient to creative, engaging, and high-performing teams and organizations.
On his blog in the Harvard Business Review Daily Alert, Ron Ashkenas asks, “Is Your Culture Too Nice?” Ashkenas explains that there is no easy formula for learning how to be more effective in constructive conflict. But he offers these suggestions:
Reflect – Give yourself an honest appraisal of your readiness to challenge, give bad news, or otherwise create a degree of conflict.
Get feedback – Ask friends, family, and colleagues for their perception of your willingness to engage in conflict, and your ability to do it constructively.
Correct the problem, gradually – Do some experimenting, particularly in the areas that are habitually difficult for you. Try pushing back on a request from your boss that doesn’t make sense. Speak up in a project meeting when you don’t agree. Give someone feedback that you’ve been withholding. And do so in a communicative and genuine manner.
The longer conflict is circumvented or avoided, the more it wears on individuals and the team, and the more difficult it becomes to correct. Being nice or easy-going certainly has its virtues, but it doesn’t always equate to engaged teams, preferred workplaces, or effective organizational performance.