Bumper Cars

Some of my best summer memories are amusement parks and “bumper cars.” What fun! There’s nothing like driving around a rink and giving your friends an epic impact. Boom! Take that. It’s still a blast – letting that inner kid out as an adult. The joy of fender benders without insurance claims or bent fenders … what’s not to like?

I’m convinced the game of “bumper cars” is also a rather popular activity at work.

Collisions on the job are common and nearly unavoidable

As people go about their jobs, a few of them like to take aim at their co-workers. They don’t seem to care who they run into, in fact, they may even have the attitude of the more the better – that’s just how they operate. Everyone’s in play. When employees go down this road there are some nasty incidents.

Fortunately, the majority of workers are careful about what they do and say, and how they treat others. They consciously try to avoid mishaps. However, they also can get caught up in conflicts that arise from seemingly simple misunderstandings or disagreements. The damage is significant – hurt feelings, lost respect for a co-worker(s), broken relationships, loss of motivation, and diminished trust.

For managers, these workplace collisions significantly impact the functioning, cooperation, and output of their teams, and put the manager in the uncomfortable position of trying to untangle the mess.

Earlier this year when we compiled ‘The High Points Survey on Leadership,’ we found just how problematic dealing with conflict (and difficult people) is for managers. They listed it as a top-10 leadership issue.

The basic principles of conflict management are: don’t avoid it; address issues immediately as they arise; be impartial; listen to all sides; keep your emotions neutral; when you speak, stay calm; acknowledge the feelings of those involved; reconcile differences by seeking agreement on the nature of the issue; set the expectation of resolving what can realistically be resolved; be honest, fair, and engaged; and find a way forward.

Conflicts have a lot of negatives, but what about the flipside?

There are some conflicts we need to promote

We may forget there’s a particular type of “conflict” that has a good side.

You can call it “Constructive Disagreement” – where the collision of ideas sharpens your thinking and improves your judgment.

It’s rooted in a healthy skepticism and driven by your ability to appropriately question. Not the type of questioning that puts people in awkward situations or makes them defensive, but a reflective nature intended to enhance understanding, by eliminating biases and blind spots. Deeper inquiry into important business issues, prior to decisions being made, results in better solutions, recommendations, or conclusions, because they have been more broadly explored.

Veering away from differing points-of-view in order to promote “harmony or agreement” between your employees often means important considerations are never voiced. You may end up with a friendly work environment, but you fail to effectively challenge assumptions and expand your views. That’s a loss any way you look at it.

My recommendation is to encourage some healthy “bumping” between your people’s thoughts and opinions for the specific purpose of engaging the collective intellect of your staff to the benefit of your end product.

– Jerry Strom

For more information about our leadership development programs, please visit http://www.JerryStrom.com . Join the mailing list to receive notice of new articles automatically.

This article is based on *‘The High Points Survey: What Managers Most Want to Know about Leadership,’ copyright 2012, by Jerry Strom & Company, Inc. Download the White Paper at: http://www.jerrystrom.com/js_high-points.html

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