We are raised to avoid conflict at all costs–with our families, at the workplace, our friends, and more. But what if conflict could be good, constructive and improve outcomes rather than tearing them apart?
Two types of conflict can occur during decision-making.
Management textbooks refer to them as cognitive and affective conflict. Cognitive conflict refers to the substance of work, while affective is rooted in interpersonal discord. Cognitive conflict is important to effective decision-making, but affective conflict can be disruptive and divisive.
Here are some suggestions for increasing “good” or cognitive conflict and minimizing “bad” or affective conflict.
- Encourage a lively debate. Don’t be afraid to ask the tough questions, and go even further with scenario-based questions that may stimulate extraordinary thinking.
- Ban language that may trigger people. Strike all remarks or questions that attach blame and fault. Try this: “Your argument makes good sense, but let me play devil’s advocate.”
- Break up cliques. Throw traditional loyalties out of the window, and do your best to pair or group people together who may have different interests.
- Break up patterns and routines. Ask people to play roles that are different from their norms. A good example is asking your CEO to view the decision from a lower-level employee perspective.
- Revisit key information to avoid stalemates. When in doubt, gather more facts. Gathering more information may be the action needed to get your process out of a rut.
Get your team to support the outcome of the decision.
Even if you are not using their recommendations, there must be a perception of fairness.
- Convey openness. Be open to new ideas and be willing to accept alternate views. And, do not say that you have already made up your mind.
- Listen very well. Be patient, make eye contact, take notes, ask questions to go deep for explanations.
- Explain why. Make sure you provide a rationale, even if that means disclosing the criteria you used to determine a course of action. Clarify and know how each team member’s arguments impacted the final decision.
Bring your decision-making process to a close, appropriately, but watch for two things:
- Deciding way too early. Sometimes decision-makers may accept the first practical option instead of exploring other options, leaving room for opinions and even unspoken objections. Notice body language, insist on breaks, ask hard questions and encourage different perspectives.
- Deciding too late. Too many strong, dissenting voices may tend to repeat their positions over and over again. Or, to be fair, making sure every view has a platform and every question resolved before a final decision can delay the process.
Perfection is boring, so don’t expect every decision-making process to come to a neat close. Sometimes, you won’t have all the data, and you won’t hear all opinions. It’s okay. Move forward.
Glintsters have the experience and expertise to guide you through conflict resolution. Reach out to us any time.