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February 16, 2023 | Blog

Managing Conflict With High Performers

By James Mayhew, James Mayhew Consulting

A lady giving presentation in a meeting

When you have a highly engaged workforce, some conflict between people is inevitable. Depending on how conflict is managed – and how your organizational culture deals with it – will make the difference between success or failure.

I was seated at the conference room table. We were discussing an important initiative around a new line of premium products. The main topic on the agenda was to discuss a name for this new series.

Members of the marketing team had been tasked to come to the meeting with ideas and concepts. Susan and Joy came in with mockups for logos to showcase the name they were pitching. Susan’s work gathered a lot of attention as she had designed mockups not just for the first product line, but for five additional lines that were complementary. Susan explained her vision for developing an entire new category of premium products. She was passionate about her concepts and it was clear she had an emotional connection to her work.

The team asked questions. Discussed what they liked and why some concepts resonated with them more. Susan was excited when others complimented her work and expressed their liking.

But when some of the team members were more enthusiastic about other concepts, she was visibly disappointed. She became defensive when they made observations that she felt were near sighted. She re-explained that her idea wasn’t specific to a single product category; her concept would lead to the development of multiple new premium product lines.

During the meeting you could hear voices grow in volume and speed. People broke into small groups as they moved around the room. The energy in the room was high with a wide range of emotions including outbursts of laughter and even an occasional pounding on the table.

After a vibrant discussion, it was Joy’s concept that was chosen by the team as the best fit for the product launch. Susan was disappointed but accepted the team’s decision.  She embraced the idea that the company wasn’t ready to invest that much into a new product line for a relatively new market segment, and she backed the team’s decision.

What this experience shows.

There are three.

Pillar #1:  Not all conflict is unhealthy.

The more people are passionate about their work, the more they will fight for their ideas and methods. Disagreements like these are the byproduct of a healthy culture where there is high levels of employee engagement. They more engaged an employee is, the more they care about what they believe is best.

So how do you create an environment where people are highly engaged and passionate about their work, but doesn’t create unhealthy conflict?

Pillar #2:  Assertive communication is a core behavior of high performing teams.

Assertive communication is the style of communication where individuals clearly state their opinions and feelings, and firmly advocate for their rights and needs without violating the rights of others.

It is the desired style of high performers because it reduces stress, boosts confidence, increases productivity and leads to more cohesive teams. Because each team member is committed to looking beyond themselves, the threat of unhealthy conflict is greatly reduced.

Here are 4 tenets of assertive communication:

  1. You express yourself clearly and confidently.
  2. You can say “No” in a calm, direct way.
  3. You aim to express your needs.
  4. You ensure other’s needs are taken into consideration.

Pillar #3:  Dignity rules.

Dignity is something we all understand. You know when someone treats you with dignity. Conversely, you also know when they don’t. Dignity is defined as: the state or quality of being worthy of honor or respect.

The greatest teams embrace this simple truth: every human being has unique and magnificent talents.

How you think and make decisions.
How you build relationships.
How you approach their work.
How you prefer to communicate.

Choosing to dignify another person means you are constantly looking for ways to relate, appreciate and celebrate these unique differences.

While it’s true that some personality styles are more skilled at dealing with conflict than others, conflict doesn’t have to be feared. Learning how you respond during conflict is crucial.

The next time you find yourself in conflict, remember that not all conflict is unhealthy and it’s going to occur with people who are more engaged in the work. When working with a group of talented, passionate individuals, make sure you practice assertive communication. And finally, make it a point to treat others with dignity by appreciating their magnificent talents.

Conflict is inevitable, but how you handle it comes down to you.


—– About the Author

James Mayhew helps businesses create high performance workplaces through his HPX Mastery System, which empowers exceptional people to do excellent work on the most important things. Based in the Corridor, he is a certified KeyneInsights Coach and Certified Human Behavioral Specialist with a values-centered approach to workplace optimization.

James is the host and creator of “Lead Thru Values,” a leadership podcast that discusses the connection between company culture and workplace performance. When James was Chief Culture Officer for one of the country’s fastest-growing privately held companies, he was responsible for the company’s strategic culture initiative that led to the organization being recognized as a top workplace in the Midwest.

You can learn more about James here.