How To 'Fight Right' And Building Lasting Relationships

Confrontation at work is unavoidable. Use these tips to make sure your battles are constructive.
July 15, 2011

Most people avoid confrontation at all costs. We're afraid others won't like what we have to say, or we've tried it before with no positive results. It's true, fighting at work would make anyone feel uneasy, but letting it go unresolved can increase tension even more.

study found that in 2008, U.S. employees spent 2.8 hours per week dealing with conflict. This amounts to approximately $359 billion in paid hours (based on average hourly earnings of $17.95), or the equivalent of 385 million working days.

Avoiding conflict and wanting to be liked by everyone—even employees who can't do their job—is one of the top reasons businesses fail, says Jay Goltz, author of The Street Smart Entrepreneur.

Here are three lessons from people who have learned how to fight right and build business relationships at the same time:

Always show respect

Robert Sutton, the author of Good Boss, Bad Boss says that when people fight over ideas, and so with mutual respect, they are more productive and creative. To lead a "right fight" you need to wait until coworkers understand the challenge at hand, and encourage everyone to argue—even the quiet ones.

Sutton says constructive fighting comes from pushing your own ideas, pounding on others' ideas, and inviting others to pound on yours too. In the book, Sutton features Pixar's director, Brad Bird, who once told his team: "Everyone will get humiliated and encouraged together. If there is a solution, I want to hear the solution, so everyone adds it to the tool kit."

Make an effort to understand both sides

Lisa Earle McLeod is the author of The Triangle of Truth, which studies CEO's "deadly sins," including fear of conflict. McLeod says reluctance to deal with conflict is the reason why so many businesses fail: "Good ideas remain unspoken, people create silos and leaders don't get the information they need because everyone is afraid to bring up potentially contentious issues."

McLeod says confronting a dominant personality doesn't have to start a fight. Questions like: "Help me understand where you're coming from," or "Tell me a bit about how you envision this," can make any two people see the win/win side to any situation.

Don't make it personal

Ex-Intel CEO Andy Grove was known for his constructive confrontation techniques. “Constructive confrontation does not mean being loud, unpleasant or rude, and it is not designed to affix blame. The essence of it is to attack a problem by speaking of it in a businesslike way,” Grove says.

One of the most important things to remember while solving a problem is to be objective: focus on data and facts. Keep in mind you're confronting the problem, not the person, and the goal is to find the best solution for your business.