Discover 4 tactics to embrace healthy conflict and drive innovation
Regardless of whether your organisation is driven by compliance or has higher aspirations to create a truly inclusive workplace, building psychological safety is at the front of most HR practitioners minds as we prepare for 2024.
When it comes to understanding psychological safety, there seems to be an assumption that a safe space means no conflicts at all. But that’s not true or helpful. Conflicts happen, and how a company deals with them is linked to how well it can come up with new ideas, adapt, and grow.
The key to embracing conflict that is productive and free from confrontational behaviour is to have frameworks in place to protect these basic elements of psychological safety:
- Inclusion safety
- Learner safety
- Contributor safety
- Challenger safety
Inclusion Safety: Empathy over Debate
Inclusion safety is the ability to share unique perspectives, experiences, and personality without criticism. A common example of conflict that can happen between colleagues is having different experiences. Instead of arguing about whose experience is more relevant or valid, it’s an opportunity to understand both sides and invite different perspectives. Choosing empathy over debate fuels interpersonal connection and helps everyone feel like they belong.
Learner Safety: Check for Competency
Learner safety is the opportunity to make mistakes, ask questions, and admit to not knowing something without being shamed. If someone’s afraid to admit they don’t know something, it can lead to putting them in a role they’re not ready for, which creates the very real possibility they will accidentally harm the business’s reputation, equipment, or, worst of all, its people. The refrain “Why didn’t they ask?” when it comes too late is a clear indicator of low Learner Safety. So, rather than waiting for people to ask, creating an environment of support that checks for competency is vital.
Contributor Safety: Ask before Offering
Contributor safety is when team members freely share ideas, and these ideas are welcomed without everyone having to agree. Contributor safety requires a fine balance of people being safe to share their thoughts while being mindful that unsolicited advice is rarely well-received in any setting. A healthy habit to get into is to always ask before offering; “Can I share a suggestion?” or “Would you like some feedback?”. Equally important is valuing the gesture while not accepting the advice; “Thank you for sharing your ideas, I appreciate you being willing to help”. These healthy habits can de-escalate conversations that otherwise may have become confrontational.
Challenger Safety: Create the Space
Challenger safety happens when teams can discuss different ideas and opinions while avoiding blame, accusations, or punishment. Challenger safety works best when there’s space for questions like “What are you worried about telling me?”, “What isn’t working here?”, “Who can see the weaknesses in the idea just shared?” and “Tell me why you disagree?”. When ideas can be discussed without the conversation becoming personal, teams are able to innovate, adapt, and grow.
When people have the tools to explore differing opinions through empathy, to ask for and offer help, and to critically discuss ideas that lead to positive outcomes, resolving conflicts becomes a way to make the workplace successful – regardless of whether success is measured through compliance or employee experience. When conflicts stay hidden and ignored, they’re more likely to blow up into bigger problems later on, and confrontation becomes the default position.
Written by Sommer Nisbet, General Manger & Solutions Director at TDC Global