Avoiding a Culture War in Business

Joe Weinlick
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Steven McKee, president of advertising agency McKee Wallwork + Co., likens a culture war in business to runners and bicyclists on a mountain trail. Both entities have similar goals and are headed in their respective directions. However, if they're not careful, the bikers and runners may unintentionally interfere with each other and cause injuries. Avoid this scenario with a few tips.

Recognize Two Options in a Conflict

The bicyclists and runners represent metaphors for a culture war at the office. Both types of people are focused on their jobs, but they may cause each other harm because they aren't paying attention to anything except meeting their own goals. Bicyclists have to make lightning-fast decisions on the trail while looking out for others, and runners have to abide by protocols on the trail to get out of a biker's way if they see one coming. Sometimes, it doesn't work out the best for everyone.

Conflicts in business often have two main options, and it's up to you to determine which one you want to follow. You can choose to judge someone else for making a perceived error in judgment, or you can try to see things from the other person's perspective and empathize with the other side. You are going to have times when you run into others at full speed at the office without realizing what you're doing. You can take a step back, apologize, and rectify the situation, or you can let tensions fester and simmer until full-blown argument happens.

Fix a Culture War Before It Stalls Growth

Research indicates that internal conflicts can debilitate company growth. Rather than focus on starting a culture war, show some humility and listen to the other side of the conflict. Listening to others can help identify the source of the conflict, and it can focus the individuals or teams as they seek a solution to the problem. Listening can also develop mutual understanding.

When everyone understands the other's perspectives, it can lead to innovation and collaboration. Instead of talking about differences, even on a diverse team, finding common ground lays the foundation for stronger relationships and better communication. Improved communication decreases judgmental attitudes and allows co-workers to see positive attributes in others.

It All Starts with Leadership

Business leaders must foster this positive environment by empowering people to speak up, give and receive constructive feedback, and embrace diverse ideas. A diverse work force, both in inherent cultural traits and acquired skills or experience, helps companies grow because diverse perspectives lead to better ideas that solve problems.

Everyone on your team has the same goal, whether they choose to accomplish that goal on a bike or by running. Managers are the ones who must take the reins and lead by example when fostering a workplace culture that avoids a culture war of a mass of entangled limbs, handlebars and tread marks. Companies that embrace a culture of acceptance, good communication, diversity and empathy are 45 percent more likely to grow their market share and 70 percent more likely to engage with new markets.

Avoiding a culture war at the office just makes sense and dollars. As a business leader, it's your job to develop a culture of collaboration and innovation, and it all starts with showing empathy towards others when a miscommunication occurs.


Photo courtesy of Witthaya Phonsawat at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

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