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Bridge gaps with wise questions

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in Leaders & Managers,People Management

When teams try to work together, harmony can give way to dissension. Egos clash, tempers flare and ill will settles in.

Conflict intensifies when groups seek to innovate or navigate organizational change. That’s why it’s critical to lead with questions—to explore rather than lecture and argue. Follow these tips:

State your intent. To minimize conflict, start by reminding everyone of your shared purpose. Use phrases such as, “All of us share the same core principles …” or “My intent, like yours, is to …”

Beginning with a common aim does not make dissent go away. But it gives combatants a basis to respect—or at least understand—each other’s motives.

Engage in curious confrontation. Some leaders avoid confrontation at all costs. That’s a mistake.

There’s nothing wrong with politely challenging what you hear. Just do it tactfully with questions, not assertions. Replace, “You’re wrong about that” with “What’s the source of your information?” or “How did you arrive at that conclusion?”

Plug holes. Conflict erupts when something’s missing—when a gap exists between what people have and what they want. Identify this unmet need or want and then take steps to fill it.

How? Ask questions such as, “What can we do to improve our working relationship?” or “What are we overlooking in evaluating this situation?”

Invite input. Rather than tell others how they can do better, let them figure it out for themselves by asking searching questions. Ask, “How can we better understand each other?” or “What steps can we take to achieve better results?”

— Adapted from Innovation By Design, Thomas Lockwood and Edgar Papke, Career Press.

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