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Engaged HR is pleased to welcome guest blogger and DisruptHR speaker Ben ZieglerConflict Management Coach of Ziegler Consulting. Ben‘s blog outlines his talk “Your Conflict Advantage” at DisruptHR 2.0 with the full length video available below. 

Let’s start with the end in mind.

Picture this: You are climbing onto a stage, to receive the ‘2021 Best Workplace in Canada’ award. Feelings of gratitude wash over you.

With the award in your hand, your first words express humility: “On behalf of my company, we are humbled to receive this award, in recognition of our positive, collaborative workplace. You know – we weren’t always this way.”

Then, you share your company’s story:

Five years ago

Five years ago, knowing that workplace conflict is inevitable, we challenged ourselves to deal better with conflict. We wanted to turn conflict into our strategic advantage. We knew that when we handled conflict well, good things happened. Cooperation increased. Silos came down. Employee engagement, workplace productivity and customer service improved.

On the other hand, we’re only human. Feelings too often surfaced that weren’t our better selves, leading us down an unhealthy path. Miscommunication was prevalent.

“The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place.” George Bernard Shaw’s words rang true.

And, when the negative emotions combined with misunderstanding and miscommunication, we had a tried-and-true recipe for conflict.

“The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place.” George Bernard Shaw

Along the way, we had individual successes – employees who aspired to deal better with conflict and did. Take Sara, for example:

Sara, who is now one of our top employees, and a role model for me, didn’t start off that way.

Looking back, fear of conflict and authentic conversation was a drag on both Sara and her work colleagues.

Proactively, Sara took it upon herself to increase her self-awareness, to dial in, to tune in, to her conflict behaviours and hot buttons. As a result, she began making better choices, choosing constructive behaviours that deescalate conflict over destructive behaviours that escalate conflict.

As her ability to express her feelings and to actively listen expanded, Sara no longer avoided difficult conversations. She gained a reputation as a peer support, a conflict coach, and as a leader by example.

Little by little, her contributions accumulated and refreshed us. Everyone wanted Sara on their team. In fact, we wanted more people to act as Sara did. Unfortunately, our culture wasn’t up to the task. Something was missing.

Building a culture of constructive behaviour

As our organization wrestled with how to scale constructive behaviours, the 2017 Hays Report came out. It showed what people wanted. Workplace culture was at the top of the list: a culture characterized by open communication and strong leadership. Bingo! We had our cues.

Then reality hit us. Open communication requires open and constructive conflict. When it comes to difficult conversations, most of us preferred to leave the elephant in the room. We’d rather not deal with our differences directly.

To help, we focused on our core values, such as mutual respect. In The Culture Engine, consultant/author Chris Edmonds advises making your intentions around culture explicit and clear. For example, “I show respect to co-workers and customers by listening without interrupting” was one of four behaviours we defined for mutual respect.

Through feedback, we measured people on their behaviours and how well they aligned with our core values.

Culture starts at the top. For our leaders, we expected a bit more. We wanted them to spend 50% of their time managing for results, and 50% managing the quality of workplace relationships and interactions. 50-50 leaders walk the values talk.

At all levels of the organization, what we didn’t want were peak performers whose behaviours didn’t align with our values. In The Ideal Team Player, leadership expert Patrick Lencioni refers to high performers whose values don’t align as “Jackasses”. We created our own ‘No Jackass’ Rule. We share our jackasses with the competition.

Scaling constructive behaviours for strategic advantage

 Gradually, constructive behaviours became the norm in the company, part of our cultural DNA. We embedded constructive behaviours into our employee hiring, assessment and development processes.

Lo and behold, employee engagement and loyalty went up. Workplace productivity went up. Customer service went up. The best people wanted to work for and with us.

Five years ago, we feared conflict. Today, we embrace conflict. We measure ourselves through conflict.

Conflict is our strategic advantage.

Why not make it yours, too!

Learn more with Ben’s 5 minute DisruptHR Talk “Your Conflict Advantage”.

Disclaimer: All content provided in this blog is the opinions expressed by the author alone and do not necessarily reflect the thoughts, intentions, plans or strategies of Engaged HR.

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