Communicate directly but in a "low key" manner. By being direct but using actions such as “debating” and “deliberating”, you can build a positive and constructive discussion and reduce your chance of conflicts and negative outcomes.
A recent paper published in the Academy of Management Review, “The Directness and Oppositional Intensity of Conflict Expression”, provides helpful advice on how to communicate directly to reduce workplace conflicts.
People do not always agree on business strategies, causes of problems, or proposed solutions.
Yet disagreements and conflicts aren’t necessary bad things.
If you communicate directly, you can foster healthy discourse and constructive discussions. And these can result in a better solution then would have been reached individually.
However, sometimes these disagreements can escalate out of control and become unhealthy, negative conflicts.
Individual’s personalities, behaviors, and actions can often exacerbate a situation and turn a small disagreement into a heated debate or uncivil encounter.
The research identified four types of workplace conflict:
High directness & High intensity
- Opposition to an idea expressed strongly and unambiguously.
- Incorporates negative behaviors such as shouting, aggressive language and sarcastic gestures such as eye rolling.
High directness & Low intensity
- Opposition to an idea is also communicated as unambiguous.
- Incorporates constructive behaviors, such as debating, discussing, and deliberating.
Low directness & High intensity
- Opposition to an idea expressed more vaguely and ambiguously.
- Incorporates strong but less direct negative behavior, such as ignoring or discounting the other person’s views. Also includes undermining, back-stabbing, teasing, or even mobilizing a coalition of others to block the opposing viewpoint.
Low directness & Low intensity
- Opposition to the idea is again expressed ambiguously and indirectly.
- Incorporates more subtle and indirect negative behaviors, such as withholding information and not speaking truthfully. Will often engage in passive-aggressive types of behavior.
According to the researchers, it is not only the nature of the disagreement, but also the way you express it that results in if it creates a positive or negative conflict.
Communicate with high directness & low intensity:
- With this approach, individuals do not “dig in” and focus on their personal stake in their positions.
- Instead, they will be more open to listen to others’ viewpoints and positions.
- They will more likely work towards a beneficial and positive outcome.
In high intensity conflicts, the disagreement starts to become personal. This often results in someone either lashing out against others or becoming more entrenched. They also are more likely to defend their positions without listening to other viewpoints or accept new ideas or information. Once this occurs, conflict is likely to increase and the chance of reaching a good outcome reduces.
When communication is indirect and ambiguous, decisions will more likely be made with incomplete, erroneous, or withheld information. There is also a greater chance that the disagreement or conflict will escalate or due to the lack of clear communications.
People express conflicts and disagreements in different ways, often according to differences in their personalities, cultures, gender, and upbringing. Group norms and corporate culture can also have a large impact on how communication is conducted in the workplace.
Establishing productive and healthy communication is critical for a productive and healthy workplace environment.
According to Professor Weingart, one of the study’s authors, leaders need to establish behavioral norms in the workplace. People tend to mirror one another’s behavior. When more people understand what healthy communication looks like at work and the more they practice it, the more likely they will exhibit it themselves.
Key Learning Points:
- A direct but low intensity communication approach is the most ideal.
- You achieve improved decision making without causing a negative emotional state of the other participants.
- Debating and deliberating is both more effective and healthier for employee relations compared with using negative, overtly aggressive, or subtly passive-aggressive avoidance approaches.
So, what does this have to do with Email Overload?
- When you draft your next Email communication, think about the wording, tone, and construct.
- Did you communicate directly, but with low intensity?
- Or are you being indirect, ambiguous, or even passive-aggressive?