I once led an offsite with the top 100 leaders at a multinational chemical company. I was immediately struck by how humble, friendly, and polite this room full of engineers was. At one point, I decided to take a risk and let them know what a pleasant bunch of people they were, but that I wondered if their polite exterior might be masking conflicts that were simmering below the surface. A ripple of laughter went through the crowd. Embarrassed recognition?
When I asked them to rate the quality of their relationships within the company, 88% responded that they belonged in the “dysfunctional family” category, full of unacknowledged conflicts.
I wasn’t surprised. Conflict avoidance is one of the most common — and divisive –behaviors my company encounters at the companies we work with. Instead of dealing with differences of opinion and working collaboratively, people choke back what they think until the boss has left the meeting, or when they are alone with a clique of like-minded colleagues. Teams break down into small, polarized groups that pursue their own agendas.
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