CORPORATE CORNER

Conflict Resolution: Why Silence is Deadly

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One of the greatest barriers to an organization achieving the results it desires is a silent danger. It is, in actuality, silence.

Whenever conflict arises, managers can be tempted to avoid it, procrastinate dealing with it, or ask someone else to resolve it. However, the truth is that anytime leaders let conflict go—for whatever reason—it doesn’t just go away.

Instead, it creates the illusion of peace, something we call artificial harmony.

Artificial harmony can be especially destructive because it is so difficult to identify. When your leaders and managers fail to deploy the proper conflict resolution strategies, water cooler talk continues, people become disingenuous with one another, communication struggles occur without an apparent reason, and most importantly, trust breaks down.

When people can’t work together well, the results your teams want will always elude them.

What Causes Conflict?

What are some reasons managers might end up with the kind of conflict no one enjoys? Here are just a few you may recognize:

  • Unmet expectations
  • Incompatible vision
  • Inappropriate actions
  • Intolerance
  • Misunderstandings
  • Taking offense
  • Harassment
  • Communication challenges

Communication challenges can be an especially challenging barrier to traditional conflict resolution strategies in the workplace. Relationships on teams go off course most often when communication breaks down.

The fact is that everyone is always communicating something.

When trying to communicate with others, most leaders believe the message is all that matters. But a manager committed to achieving higher levels of influence knows the reality: communication goes far beyond words.

Communication without Words

In an important study for the Institute of Judicial Studies, Albert Mehrabian, UCLA psychology professor emeritus, discovered that face-to-face communication can be broken down into three components: words, tone of voice, and body language.

It may surprise leaders in your company to learn that tone of voice and body language greatly outweigh verbal communication. When verbal and nonverbal messages are inconsistent, what employees see and hear speaks much louder than any words leaders use.

Feel free to pass along this valuable information to help your leaders and managers communicate better to their teams. In situations where feelings and attitudes are being communicated:

  1. What you say (words) accounts for only 7% of what is believed.
  2. The way you say it (tone of voice) accounts for 38%.
  3. What others see (body language) accounts for 55%.

Amazingly, more than 90% of what leaders communicate has nothing to do with what they actually say.

Tone, inflection, timing, volume, pacing—everything leaders do with their voices communicates something and has the potential to help them either connect or disconnect.

Break the Silence

Even changing a little thing—like words—can change the direction of a team relationship.

Harvard Business Review contributor, Douglas R. Conant wrote an article entirely devoted to the words his peers, superiors, even absolute strangers had shared with him and how they affected his thinking and the directions he took.

  • A professor shared with an academically slipping Douglas, “You can do better.”
  • Lost in a General Mills office building, he bumped into a stranger who told him to “Give it all you’ve got.” That stranger turned out to be Jim McFarland, the CEO and Chairman of General Mills.
  • He listened to his coworker answer phones all day, greeting each one with a cheery hello and a “How can I help?”
  • In a moment more rough than uplifting, his manager at General Mills advised him, “You should look for another job.”

Conant identifies all of these moments as “touchpoints” in his life, words spoken to him by those who took the time to reach out and share—giving encouragement, direction, or constructive criticism.

Those people probably had no idea they were affecting one man so profoundly with just a few words. Likewise, the leaders in your organization may undervalue the power of their words in your workplace.

If your leaders still holdback, encourage them to consider this advice from Fred Smith, author of Learning to Lead:

“Whenever I am tempted not to act [or speak] in a difficult personnel situation, I ask myself, Am I holding back for my personal comfort or for the good of the organization?

If I am doing what makes me comfortable, I am embezzling. If doing what is good for the company also happens to make me comfortable, that’s wonderful.

But if I am treating irresponsibility irresponsibly, I must remember that two wrongs do not make a right.”

Encourage your leaders to take control of what they communicate. Silence isn’t always golden for their teams. Sometimes it’s just deadly.

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