Preventing Conflict in the Workplace

If asked, many HR professionals would say that preventing conflict in the workplace is one of their key job duties. However, I’d like to step back from that well-known requirement and re-examine the need for civility at all costs. Let’s kick off with a quote:

It means caring a lot about not offending someone. Let’s be clear, to be civil is good. Civil behavior is a useful part of a healthy team. However, it can’t be the defining characteristic of the team. Great performance means tough conversations, which is why candor should always trump civility. Candor refers to interactions defined by honest, frank and, forthright exchanges. No sugar-coating, just professional and somewhat blunt conversation. Credit: Lynda.com

Recently I was evaluating some training for some of our supervisors, and I ran across this comment. I think within the realm of human resources management, this type of thinking is more critical than almost any other area of the business. Think about it: we’re supposed to facilitate civility in the workplace. We’re supposed to help eliminate friction, prevent hurt feelings, and ensure a sense of “peace in the family.”

Preventing conflict in the workplace? That’s our job

In fact, if you’re an in-the-trenches HR kind of person, you probably thought of an ongoing situation where you’re trying to facilitate civility as you read that last paragraph. It’s just what we do, right?

But maybe we shouldn’t?

Recently I wrote about the relationship between the Chief Executive Officer of an organization and the key HR leader. The thing that CEOs want most out of HR? Candor.

[Related: Here’s what 76% of CEOs appreciate about HR]

Not only do CEOs want to share candidly with HR without fear of the information being used against them; they also want HR to speak candidly with them about problems and opportunities. The relationship is too critical to allow it to be hampered by the desire to pursue civility at all costs.

The next time you’re looking at a situation that requires you to choose between being open and honest (and possibly causing conflict at work) or trying to smooth things over to prevent any negative response, make sure you are not diminishing the message so much that it loses all value.

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