The Power of Asking Questions during Workplace Conflicts

April 7, 20211:48 pm568 views
The Power of Asking Questions during Workplace Conflicts
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There is a severe consequence for having conflicts with coworkers and employers in the workplace. One of the most obvious consequences is a dissonant collaboration – which then can hamper relationships and create a stressful work environment. But what can one do to resolve conflicts without hurting work relationships? 

Workplace conflict and employment lawsuit stats 

According to a CPP survey, conflicts are inevitable and might happen in nearly 90 percent of organisations in all sectors. 85 percent of employees told CPP that they experienced some kind of conflict, while 29 percent of workers constantly experienced workplace conflicts. 

Conflicts do not only happen to those who work in-house, remote workers also experience some kind of workplace disputes with their coworkers and bosses. A survey from MyPerfectResume revealed that both men (82 percent) and women (80 percent) of remote professionals have experienced workplace conflicts. More than half of employees said they have conflicts with coworkers, while 19 percent of the virtual fights happen with bosses, followed by external managers and employees who work at another company. 

Causes of workplace disagreements 

From both surveys (CPP and MyPerfectResume), lack of communication becomes the number one reason conflicts happen. In fact, an employee or manager who fails to deliver vital information across an organisation is likely to cause miscommunication. Poor management, unfair treatment, unclear job roles, poor work culture, significant changes to organisational operations, bullying and harassment can also cause workplace conflicts. 

By generation, Gen-X had more remote conflict issues due to lack of teamwork as compared with Millennials. By years of work experience, those who have 20+ years of experiences undergo conflicts more often, followed by professionals with 11-20 years of experience. Meanwhile, employees with 1-2 years of experience are cited to have little to no disagreements with their bosses or coworkers. 

Favouritism and lack of appreciation might also cause workplace disputes. Employers displaying favouritism is a destructive force to employees’ morale. Employees mostly see favouritism as unfair treatment which hurts their feelings, especially when they have put in great efforts into their work but none noticed it. Favouritism often creates unhealthy competition amongst employees. Also, work cultures that abandon gratitude often lead to stress. Stressful employees tend to be more disgruntled which then can invite conflicts. 

See also: Building Effective Employer-Employee Dialogues

Agree to disagree – how to eliminate conflicts, especially with boss or supervisor  

Arguing with your boss might backfire if you lack evidence or a backup plan. Having a stubborn leader might also make it hard for you to utter your disagreement. While some suggest that you should approach your boss with positive emotions and discuss with them carefully, this might not be effective if your supervisor is a busy person. So what is the best way? It is to make them realise their own mistake. 

Most leaders get defensive when someone tries to point out their ignorance, mistake, or failed plan directly. Therefore, it is better to let them find out the gaps in their own understanding – and asking questions is proven effective to help them do that. Yale psychologists did an experiment on students and rated their knowledge on how they explain the working of everyday objects, such as how toilet work or television work.  The researchers chose students who are extremely confident in their knowledge. However, their confidence melted away when they struggled writing step-by-step explanations about the objects, which make them understand how little they know. 

David Sprott et al. also conducted a study where they tested question-behaviour to students who are confident with their knowledge. His study found that questions can increase the performance of positive behaviours and reduce the performance of negative behaviours. This finding showed that asking questions instead of giving answers can overcome people’s defensiveness. So, next time you are having a disagreement with your boss, you can give him control by asking questions rather than telling him/her what to think or do. 

What questions to ask? 

Of course, a respectful question. 

Respectful questioning is simple. Praise your boss or coworkers, then ask as much as possible an open-ended question – questions that cannot be answered with a simple ‘yes’ or ‘no’. Psychologists find that narcissists are willing to accept their shortcomings when you have already praised them in other areas. Meanwhile, an open-ended question helps you seek confirmations and clarity. 

The best opening question in a respectful manner is “Why?” This single work question is sometimes enough to get started. If your boss has stated that their plan will work well, simply ask why. If possible, continue to drill down with why questions. You should avoid questions that are judgmental and keep your beliefs out of the discussion. This will make your boss feel more secure and allow them to be more open with you about their vulnerability, such as changing their plans to fit more to the organisation’s needs. 

The rules? 
  • Don’t point out the mistakes, make them realise the mistake on their own. 
  • Your boss might not openly agree with your disagreement, but with your questions, they might think twice about their plan. 
  • Point out the positive and avoid using negative words such as “but, no, not true, etc.” 
  • Keep your mind at peace and do not ask judgmental or leading questions. 

Next time you find yourself arguing with your co-workers or boss, remember these tips. Stay calm and ask! 

Read also: 5 Essential Parts of Managing Conflict Managers Should Know