Questions and Answers About Embracing Healthy Conflict

March 1, 2018

Healthy conflict at work

Conflict is all around us, and it’s how we handle most of our decisions, Susan A. Mason, principal of Vital Visions Consultants and a member of AMA’s faculty, says in the new AMA webinar “Women as Assertive Leaders of Healthy Conflict.”

As more women move into leadership roles, they’ll face more conflict and will need to learn healthy ways to resolve it, she says. Mason teaches an assertive, collaborative approach to handling conflict that works better than a passive or aggressive approach.

In a Q&A session, Mason answered webinar attendees’ questions and offered some specific advice on how to be more assertive on the job:

Q: I was expressing the voice of a customer, not my own opinion. Yet I was labeled as being aggressive and not acting like a team player. What can I do about this point of view?

Susan A. Mason: Women are labeled as aggressive often because it is a newish behavior and something that is not characteristic of all or even most women in the workplace.… We as women need to stay consistent in expressing our ideas, approaches, processes, opinions, etc., so that our voices don’t stand out by exception but rather become commonplace. There will be these new perceptions of women as larger numbers of us speak assertively, confidently, and with presence.

Q: How do I manage conflicts on my team, particularly with a senior team member who is being unreasonable?

SAM: Your management of conflicts really starts with building strong relationships and using empathy with your team members and senior leaders. When you are assertively communicating, you will be creating healthy conflict and you will find people are respecting you and your ideas.

Don’t get caught in the trap of needing to resolve and fix uncomfortable interactions or differences in the team. Your work should be to have the team members take on adult-to-adult behaviors and not run to you for the fix. The same applies with your senior person.

Q: Can the caregiver role be a part of an executive presence?

SAM: Caregiver versus caring is worthy of distinction here. Caregivers generally are taking care of people and situations. The caregiver has often been associated with mothering (not as much fathering), nursing, social care and work, and elder care, and directed toward those who cannot fully take care of themselves. These are traditionally considered female professions that are lower paid and with less social capital.

Caring is not bound by profession, gender, situation, etc. Caring is empathy, and it is the linchpin of healthy conflict and is a form of emotional intelligence that male and female leaders should possess to exhibit executive presence.

Q: How do I stop people from reexplaining what I am trying to say?

SAM: We can (1) examine how we communicate. Do we take too many words to make our point? If we don’t get the nonverbal response we want, do we repeat what we said without asking if there is a need to clarify? (2) Reflect the other person’s behaviors and then ask for feedback about your speaking. “Sylvia, just now you reexplained what I am saying. Tell me what I am doing that produces that sense that additional explanation is necessary.”

Q: Can you give us more sentences or phrases to acknowledge conflict within a group?

SAM: Be sure to not get too wordy or overly soften the message. Be assertive, respectful, to the point, and inclusive when messaging healthy conflict:

  • “We have differing perspectives, so let’s discuss them.”
  • “Each of us cares about this issue and brings fresh views that are unique.”
  • “There are lots of ways to look at this, and we have heard several strong positions. How do we synergize these viewpoints?”

Being assertive is the most effective way to resolve conflict, Mason says. When you work with colleagues to get your needs met in a way that also meets their needs, you’ll build healthier relationships and more creative, collaborative, and productive teams.

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About The Author

Jan Arzooman is a proofreader, copyeditor, and writer in AMA’s creative services/marketing department. She has worked in editorial for more than 20 years. Arzooman also is a visual artist who enjoys painting, digital art, and photography.

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    […] “these stereotypes can affect our life outcomes,” she says. (See Susan Mason’s responses to webinar attendees’ questions about healthy […]

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