Businessman and rope challenge

Cognitive diversity is a proven way to create more creative, diverse solutions. However, it can also breed conflict – but this isn’t necessarily a bad thing. According to findings in the Journal for Applied Psychology, conflict can be positive if the team is set up right. Specifically, task conflict had a positive impact on performance in teams with high levels of openness or emotional stability.

Before you go picking fights with your team though, the study also found that task conflict had a negative impact on performance in teams with low levels of openness or emotional stability.

With that caveat, it’s a pretty fascinating and appealing scenario. Organizations don’t have be so focused on removing conflict—instead they can focus on building trust, openness and emotional intelligence…and reap the benefits of healthy, competitive debate.

To get there isn’t easy though. How do you ensure that you’re cognitively diverse team is respecting one another and communicating positively? Start with this…

Open communication: Create fluidity in dialogue that is built off a shared respect for various perspectives. Employees think and behave differently—even in intact teams from the same department or project, there is almost assuredly a large variance in thinking styles and levels of behavior.

    • Expressiveness: Create clarity around the full spectrum of communication styles—Elicit responses from more quiet employees and ensure more gregarious, outgoing employees have a productive platform to share ideas. Neither is right or wrong.
    • Assertiveness: Allow all ideas to come to the forefront—Provide a way for even peacekeeping employees to voice ideas and opinions they may feel strongly about. Ensure more competitive, driving employees feel satisfied in those tendencies without railroading others.
    • Flexibility: Create multifaceted scenarios that create new opportunities and reinforce elements of stability—Ensure those who are more comfortable in a defined environment can communicate ideas efficiently and effectively. Create new, changing elements at work that stimulate those who welcome change to contribute ideas in that space.

Set Expectations for Conflict: With a plan for recognizing and understanding differences in thinking and communication styles, organizations have the foundation to place a respectful conflict approach to work.

It isn’t an encouragement of conflict per se but rather an understanding that when a broad spectrum of approaches, perspectives, and ideas are all valid and valued, conflict may arise—and it’s not a bad thing.

Open communication is not only essential to the success of the business, but on a basic level, it’s about the success of every employee. Organizations that are communicating effectively as a whole are those that are reinforcing open dialogue by adhering to all perspectives and creating clear expectations.

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