Finish the Argument

Published: February 26, 2015

Day-to-day interactions with colleagues often provide an indication of the quality of communication without revealing much evidence about the reasons for its strength or weakness. True data usually lives beneath the surface. When it’s not going well, the motive for the choice not to collaborate is frequently some unresolved grudge that converts a “we” into an “us vs. them.” Perhaps a teammate said something insulting six months ago. Maybe a counterpart came from the wrong side of a merger following a corporate acquisition. Sometimes a colleague stays loyal to a previous leader. Either way, a talent with whom you should partner is rendered off limits. What should you do?

Such workplace dynamics create a cultural energy drain until they are resolved once and for all. It’s much easier to do nothing and learn to cope with dysfunctional communication than it is to take on the hard work of relationship repair. Unfortunately, the consequence is a divided workplace however you decide to define the factions. Of course, work still gets done – but not with efficiency, creativity, or fun. What a waste.

Imagine a workplace where issues were managed proactively, directly, respectfully, and maturely. Consider a team where differing feelings and perspectives were factored into the equation of collaboration. What if colleagues could either resolve, compromise, mediate, arbitrate, or simply let go of an issue? Start with a five-part action plan:

1. Make a list of all teammates with whom there are currently unresolved issues.

2. Force rank the people/issues from most to least important.

3. Map out a triage plan detailing how the issues will be addressed including the who, what, where, and when particulars.

4. Brush up on your basic conflict resolution skills and carry out your triage plan as promptly, respectfully, and professionally as possible.

5. Seek assistance from an objective third party for any issues that can’t be resolved directly.

No pain no gain, right? These are extremely difficult conversations to undertake. Some pain, however, is useful. Struggle usually causes growth and change. Perhaps it’s time to finish a few arguments.

Photo of Steve Ritter, the co-founder of The Center for Team Excellence

Steve Ritter

Steve Ritter is an internationally recognized expert on team dynamics whose clients include Fortune 500 companies, professional sports teams, and many educational organizations. He is on the faculty of the Center for Professional Excellence at Elmhurst College where he earned the President's Award for Excellence in Teaching. Steve is the former Senior Vice President, Director of Human Resources at Leaders Bank, named the #1 Best Place to Work in Illinois in 2006 and winner of the American Psychological Association's Psychologically Healthy Workplace Award in 2010. Steve provides ongoing workplace culture consultation to many thriving companies including Kraft Foods, Advocate Health Care, Kellogg's, the Chicago White Sox, AthletiCo, and Northwestern Mutual Financial Network.