Ax Destructive Arguments in the Workplace
There are healthy debates and then there are unproductive, chronic arguments. Persistent, petty arguments can be detrimental to the organization. They damage morale and can undermine motivation, productivity, and goals and results. I’m not advocating everyone in your company agree all the time. People are people and that isn’t possible. Further, moderate levels of disagreeing can lead to creative solutions and progress. What I am suggesting is proactively manage disagreement that crosses the line because it affects the business. If you recognize situations like this, communicate to the involved individuals how their behavior is impacting the business and those around them. Set expectations for the individuals to develop corrective actions and draw clear lines that destructive arguments will not be tolerated.
At work, you’re most likely to notice arguments crop up among coworkers, but it may also occur between your employees and customers, as well as between yourself and your employees. At some point or another, such types of scenarios are likely to happen unless you manage them with your head more so than your heart, or logically versus emotionally. Here’s how to address:
Arguments between you and another employee. If you don’t see eye to eye with this employee, discipline yourself to try and not personalize the argument. As I’ve drilled away at in other blogs, focus on the problem, not the person, and this strategy will almost always set you both free from unnecessary emotional bickering and hurtful, perhaps lifelong consequences. If you maintain a logical, objective approach to how you share your feelings or the situation, the other person’s energy level is more likely to change to mirror yours, moving you both toward a rational headspace from which you can more quickly come up with solutions.
Arguments between two or more employees. This is sticky business, always. But the best approach is to not play referee if at all possible. Call these folks out, letting them know you are aware of their behaviors and disagreements but put the problems back on those that own it—them. Make it clear they need to resolve their issue ASAP and let them know it has no place in your workplace culture. You can certainly empower their problem-solving with some proven conflict-resolution tips or even a quiet, private place for them to go talk. But do your best not to get in the middle—that’s anything but The Disciplined Leader’s job.
Arguments between an employee and a customer. Anyone who comes into contact with customers should know you won’t tolerate them arguing with this lifeline of your business. That said, customers will argue with them at times, even arguing just to be heard or for the sake of the argument itself. Empower them to resist the “fight” by teaching them how to remain calm, listen to, and sincerely empathize with the customer’s frustrations, wants and needs. Let them know that if they engage in the argument, no one wins. Also, keep in mind that the recovery to the problem needs to be based on what the customer really says he/she wants and needs—and that may not always be easy or doable for you. But do your darnedest to make it happen.
What “argument traps” have you gotten into at work—and what lessons have you learned?