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    In her book on global conflict, A Savage Order, scholar Rachel Kleinfeld describes how countries find a way out of endemic violence. The first step governments often take is to make bargains with warlords, giving conflict entrepreneurs political power in exchange for a little peace. The goal of these “dirty deals” is to buy time — while reformers reduce corruption and other systemic problems. It’s a gamble, but ignoring conflict entrepreneurs can be more dangerous.

    In companies, this might mean channeling the energy of a conflict entrepreneur toward something productive that you both care about. Give them a choice, rather than a mandate. Often, professional coaching is a good option, according to Eddy, the mediator who works with high-conflict personalities. “Focus on the future,” he advises.

    Megan Hunter has done dozens of trainings, coaching engagements, and mediations with high-conflict companies (and co-authored several books with Eddy). In one explosive case, which threatened to drive a large family-owned business into bankruptcy, Hunter asked the feuding family members to work together to create a mission statement, which they’d never done before. This effect was surprising, even to her. “It was the first time they had been in the same room without f-bombs being hurled and someone storming out,” Hunter said. “They were so darned proud of that mission statement.” It doesn’t always work, but redirection is worth trying, she says. “Get them making decisions — together — instead of yelling at each other.”

    Build guardrails

    The best defense is a culture of good conflict — where questions get asked, honest disagreement is encouraged, and everyone behaves with a baseline level of decency.

    But good conflict doesn’t happen naturally. It requires rituals and boundaries, ways to lean into the tension, not avoid it (or get consumed by it). This means creating, alongside employees, rules of engagement that everyone can agree to. In his 25 years as CEO of Able Aerospace in Arizona, Lee Benson found that he and his colleagues could rehabilitate about two of every three conflict entrepreneurs by instilling a straightforward, common methodology for performance and acceptable behavior. “They can’t get away with it when everyone knows the rules of engagement,” he told me. “They want to be part of the community, so they typically change.”

    Here are examples of good-conflict practices I’ve seen adopted in different organizations:

    1. If you have a problem, go to the person you have the problem with first (unless it is a case of illegal, abusive, or dangerous behavior of course). Do this in person or on the phone, never via any form of written communication.
    2. Bring a proposed solution with you.
    3. Ask a lot of questions, with genuine curiosity, in any disagreement.
    4. Reflect back what you hear and check to see if you got it right, even as you continue to disagree.
    5. Stop using Slack and other tools that can generate unhealthy conflict (or, if this is unthinkable for your work flow, come to a consensus about how you will use these tools with integrity).
    6. Find a trusted mediator who can facilitate harder conversations when needed.
    7. Reward and demonstrate good-conflict behavior, publicly and often. Tell true stories about this when onboarding new employees — especially stories about junior employees who asked tough questions of supervisors without vilifying them (or being vilified).
    8. Target problems, not people.
    9. Do not engage in backchannel gossip or anonymous attacks.
    10. Rack up at least three positive encounters with each other for each negative. Do this in-person whenever possible. It’s harder to dehumanize someone who has cooked you dinner — or lost to you in cornhole.

    The goal is not no conflict; it’s good conflict. In the tech company described earlier, the conflict entrepreneur eventually left by choice. “It’s so painful in retrospect,” the manager told me. “I wish we would have dealt with them sooner.” The company is now actively working to create better conflict rituals. “We have to still have healthy conflict. It’s how we get better.”

    In her book on global conflict, A Savage Order, scholar Rachel Kleinfeld describes how countries find a way out of endemic violence. The first step governments often take is to make bargains with warlords, giving conflict entrepreneurs political power in exchange for a little peace. The goal of these “dirty deals” is to buy time — while reformers reduce corruption and other systemic problems. It’s a gamble, but ignoring conflict entrepreneurs can be more dangerous.

    In companies, this might mean channeling the energy of a conflict entrepreneur toward something productive that you both care about. Give them a choice, rather than a mandate. Often, professional coaching is a good option, according to Eddy, the mediator who works with high-conflict personalities. “Focus on the future,” he advises.

    Megan Hunter has done dozens of trainings, coaching engagements, and mediations with high-conflict companies (and co-authored several books with Eddy). In one explosive case, which threatened to drive a large family-owned business into bankruptcy, Hunter asked the feuding family members to work together to create a mission statement, which they’d never done before. This effect was surprising, even to her. “It was the first time they had been in the same room without f-bombs being hurled and someone storming out,” Hunter said. “They were so darned proud of that mission statement.” It doesn’t always work, but redirection is worth trying, she says. “Get them making decisions — together — instead of yelling at each other.”

    Build guardrails

    The best defense is a culture of good conflict — where questions get asked, honest disagreement is encouraged, and everyone behaves with a baseline level of decency.

    But good conflict doesn’t happen naturally. It requires rituals and boundaries, ways to lean into the tension, not avoid it (or get consumed by it). This means creating, alongside employees, rules of engagement that everyone can agree to. In his 25 years as CEO of Able Aerospace in Arizona, Lee Benson found that he and his colleagues could rehabilitate about two of every three conflict entrepreneurs by instilling a straightforward, common methodology for performance and acceptable behavior. “They can’t get away with it when everyone knows the rules of engagement,” he told me. “They want to be part of the community, so they typically change.”

    Here are examples of good-conflict practices I’ve seen adopted in different organizations:

    1. If you have a problem, go to the person you have the problem with first (unless it is a case of illegal, abusive, or dangerous behavior of course). Do this in person or on the phone, never via any form of written communication.
    2. Bring a proposed solution with you.
    3. Ask a lot of questions, with genuine curiosity, in any disagreement.
    4. Reflect back what you hear and check to see if you got it right, even as you continue to disagree.
    5. Stop using Slack and other tools that can generate unhealthy conflict (or, if this is unthinkable for your work flow, come to a consensus about how you will use these tools with integrity).
    6. Find a trusted mediator who can facilitate harder conversations when needed.
    7. Reward and demonstrate good-conflict behavior, publicly and often. Tell true stories about this when onboarding new employees — especially stories about junior employees who asked tough questions of supervisors without vilifying them (or being vilified).
    8. Target problems, not people.
    9. Do not engage in backchannel gossip or anonymous attacks.
    10. Rack up at least three positive encounters with each other for each negative. Do this in-person whenever possible. It’s harder to dehumanize someone who has cooked you dinner — or lost to you in cornhole.

    The goal is not no conflict; it’s good conflict. In the tech company described earlier, the conflict entrepreneur eventually left by choice. “It’s so painful in retrospect,” the manager told me. “I wish we would have dealt with them sooner.” The company is now actively working to create better conflict rituals. “We have to still have healthy conflict. It’s how we get better.”

    In her book on global conflict, A Savage Order, scholar Rachel Kleinfeld describes how countries find a way out of endemic violence. The first step governments often take is to make bargains with warlords, giving conflict entrepreneurs political power in exchange for a little peace. The goal of these “dirty deals” is to buy time — while reformers reduce corruption and other systemic problems. It’s a gamble, but ignoring conflict entrepreneurs can be more dangerous.

    In companies, this might mean channeling the energy of a conflict entrepreneur toward something productive that you both care about. Give them a choice, rather than a mandate. Often, professional coaching is a good option, according to Eddy, the mediator who works with high-conflict personalities. “Focus on the future,” he advises.

    Megan Hunter has done dozens of trainings, coaching engagements, and mediations with high-conflict companies (and co-authored several books with Eddy). In one explosive case, which threatened to drive a large family-owned business into bankruptcy, Hunter asked the feuding family members to work together to create a mission statement, which they’d never done before. This effect was surprising, even to her. “It was the first time they had been in the same room without f-bombs being hurled and someone storming out,” Hunter said. “They were so darned proud of that mission statement.” It doesn’t always work, but redirection is worth trying, she says. “Get them making decisions — together — instead of yelling at each other.”

    Build guardrails

    The best defense is a culture of good conflict — where questions get asked, honest disagreement is encouraged, and everyone behaves with a baseline level of decency.

    But good conflict doesn’t happen naturally. It requires rituals and boundaries, ways to lean into the tension, not avoid it (or get consumed by it). This means creating, alongside employees, rules of engagement that everyone can agree to. In his 25 years as CEO of Able Aerospace in Arizona, Lee Benson found that he and his colleagues could rehabilitate about two of every three conflict entrepreneurs by instilling a straightforward, common methodology for performance and acceptable behavior. “They can’t get away with it when everyone knows the rules of engagement,” he told me. “They want to be part of the community, so they typically change.”

    Here are examples of good-conflict practices I’ve seen adopted in different organizations:

    1. If you have a problem, go to the person you have the problem with first (unless it is a case of illegal, abusive, or dangerous behavior of course). Do this in person or on the phone, never via any form of written communication.
    2. Bring a proposed solution with you.
    3. Ask a lot of questions, with genuine curiosity, in any disagreement.
    4. Reflect back what you hear and check to see if you got it right, even as you continue to disagree.
    5. Stop using Slack and other tools that can generate unhealthy conflict (or, if this is unthinkable for your work flow, come to a consensus about how you will use these tools with integrity).
    6. Find a trusted mediator who can facilitate harder conversations when needed.
    7. Reward and demonstrate good-conflict behavior, publicly and often. Tell true stories about this when onboarding new employees — especially stories about junior employees who asked tough questions of supervisors without vilifying them (or being vilified).
    8. Target problems, not people.
    9. Do not engage in backchannel gossip or anonymous attacks.
    10. Rack up at least three positive encounters with each other for each negative. Do this in-person whenever possible. It’s harder to dehumanize someone who has cooked you dinner — or lost to you in cornhole.

    The goal is not no conflict; it’s good conflict. In the tech company described earlier, the conflict entrepreneur eventually left by choice. “It’s so painful in retrospect,” the manager told me. “I wish we would have dealt with them sooner.” The company is now actively working to create better conflict rituals. “We have to still have healthy conflict. It’s how we get better.”

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