You know you've been there; you leave a meeting or read an email where the company's strategic initiative is laid out -- and you just shake your head in wonder! Unfortunately, you are not the only one who will not speak out against what you believe to be the wrong direction, often at a very high price to the bottom line! The inability to express -- and subsequently deal with conflict or a healthy difference of opinion is prevalent in many organizations. Regardless of the organizations' mission statement of welcoming dissent or its open door policy of reaching out to the executive suite, most companies just want their employees to sheepishly go along for the ride! (Yes, there are exceptions but this article is addressing the majority.) Research suggests even when leaders truly encourage dissent and the expression of different points of view -- employees often refuse to do so. What's going on here?
To be fair, dealing with conflict is difficult for many people on a personal level -- so it is not such a stretch to see how these same people have difficulty dealing with conflict on a professional level as well. The cost to an organization for not having people engage in open honest dialogue surrounding differences of opinion comes at an extremely high price. Financial investments (sometimes in the millions) are spent on programs, training, equipment, personnel, real estate, etc. for initiatives, expansions and/or promotions that some employees who had their finger on the pulse already knew would not work, yet they failed to express their legitimate concern(s) because well, they just couldn't -- for fear of...
Maybe you never learned how to deal effectively with conflict as a child, especially if you grew up in an authoritative home where children really had no voice. Or perhaps you are the consummate "people pleaser" who will go to the nth degree not to upset the apple cart, fearful of hurting someone's feelings. If you truly believe all conflict is "bad" or you've have poor experiences with conflict in the past, you hesitate to re-visit this situation again. This makes perfect sense. But whatever your individual reason for not expressing a conflicting point of view at work, try to understand its origins (hint: childhood -- as mentioned above) and begin to work through it with a trusted mentor/colleague, executive coach or even a therapist (yes, you read that correctly -- every problem cannot be solved by a coach as some issues run just too deep!)
Learn how to disagree without being disagreeable. You can say almost anything to anyone -- it just depends upon the words you use and the tone of your voice! Approach the conversation in a positive manner and present your differing opinion as an alternative idea or another option, rather than stating the current position is dead wrong or just won't work!
Begin by confronting small issues and then grow into the bigger, more complicated and emotional ones. Ask someone at work whom you trust how they handle conflict and model that behavior in a manner that is authentic to who you are. Remember when you address conflict, you are addressing an "issue" -- not the person!
Avoiding conflict at the office can leave you and your company in a precarious position -- creating the ramifications you were actually trying to avoid by not addressing up.