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Let’s Make This ‘National Healthy Conflict Week’

September 3, 2011 - People Management

big smileI work for the IT organization of a major corporation whose headquarters are located in the Midwest.  And you know us Midwesterners… we’re nice.  Really freakin’ nice.  We can’t get through a check-out line in a grocery store without chatting about our family and/or our weekend plans.  We never honk at one another on the road.  And we certainly never have any open conflict in work meetings.

… <meaningful pause> …

That’s right.  No conflict in the workplace.  It must have been National Passive Aggressive Week and I didn’t realize it.  There’s lots of smiling, lots of nodding, and then lots of silent behind-the-back disagreement.  And if my irritation isn’t coming through in my tone very well, let me say it.  I’m irritated.  I’m not a mind reader, and I don’t know very many people who are.

Being “directionally aligned” isn’t a thing.  No, we can’t take this discussion “offline” after the meeting.  Midwesterners across the U.S., it’s time for healthy conflict in the workplace.  And knowing that I suffer from the same tendencies as anyone else, I’m starting with myself.

3 Steps to Stop Being Passive Aggressive

1. Work at being more honest with people, even if it results in a conflict

I pledge that, if I disagree with something at work, I will say so.  I will not nod.  I will not lie.  If there is something I would say after the meeting about what’s going on, I will choose to say it during the meeting.

Group discussion2. Accept that it is okay to have conflict and disagreement

We weren’t hired to agree with everyone all the time.  What’s the value in that?  No one will ever be a thought leader by avoiding all disagreements.  It really is okay to have healthy conflict with others.  Only by challenging each other will we come out with the most innovative and forward-thinking ideas.

3. Learn to compromise and come to a “win-win” solution

Accepting the need for conflict doesn’t mean that we will always get our way.   Voicing our disagreement doesn’t automatically mean that the other person can or will change their mind.  We must still practice active listening and come to “win-win” situations as often as we can.  (Is that Midwestern of me?)

3 Steps to Working with Passive Aggressive People

1. Ask for their true feelings

If you’re suspicious that someone is avoiding conflict and choosing to stay quiet, give them some encouragement.  Let them know you do truly want to hear what they really feel about the idea / change / proposal.  That you’re open to disagreement.

2. Defuse the competition in the relationship

This one’s a biggie.  While my colleagues and I all work for the same organization, there’s always a sense of competition between us as well, which can be both healthy for the organization (gotta keep raising the bar, right?) but also potentially challenging for relationship building.  As much as possible, defuse the feeling of competition with the person, to open up the line of communication even more.

3. Reassure them of your desire for a “win-win” solution

Shaking handsLet your colleague know that you truly want to hear their opinion, in search of a “win-win” situation for both parties.  They will then see that there’s actually a point to sharing their perspective, and that they will be heard.  It isn’t just a fake gesture of courtesy that they’re asked for their opinion, but a real search for common ground.

Source: “Eliminating Passive Aggressiveness.”

What are your tips for dealing with passive aggressiveness in the workplace?

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