What Your Office Kitchen Says About Your Company's Culture

Kitchen_SinkTo get a true gauge of your company culture, take a look at your office kitchen. Is the microwave littered with sticky notes reminding you how to properly warm your food, tips for keeping it clean, or the passive aggressive note that it’s in everyone’s best interest to keep this appliance spic and span? If all signs point to yes, it might be indicative of how your organization handles conflict from the top down.

Organizations spend a lot of money and effort finding the best people. But many times, don’t fully leverage these individuals because they have created cultures where conflict is seen as negative. In her book, “Willful Blindness,” former CEO and author Margaret Heffernan discusses her theories on conflict avoidance and how it can devastate organizations. The notion of “selective blindness” stems from executives who often ignore the inevitable, or obvious, to avoid conflict. 

In the book, Heffernan shares a survey that compares European executives to American ones. The study revealed that 85% of American executives acknowledged they had issues or concerns at work which they chose to keep quiet out of fear of conflict.

This got me thinking. As a recruiter, there is a disconnect between what leaders and managers want from a candidate and how they actually utilize these skills. Almost every job description calls for “out of the box thinkers,” but rarely, are these skills put to use.

Constructive conflict is good. It gets us thinking and helps us move forward with methods of doing things, well, better. It keeps us coming up with new ideas, new inventions, and develops ourselves into being a successful team and organization.  If no one ever raised their hand to say “this isn’t working, how can we improve,” we’d still be carrying paper rolodexes and relying on fax machines. 

Point blank: conflict within an organization means that employees care about outcomes. 

Employers are quick to view conflict as a sign that employees are disgruntled, but silence is the real killer. If employees didn’t care, they wouldn’t bother using the energy it takes to question, argue, and ultimately, improve.  Of course, just any conflict isn’t good, it has to be constructive. Make sure to ask yourself: Do people within your organization operate under this fear of being wrong, or do they willingly express their opinion; even if it’s an unpopular one? In order for an organization to have constructive conflict, they must foster an environment that promotes it. 

4 Ways to Foster a Culture of Forward-Thinkers 

Hire people different than you.

There’s a term in HR called the “same as me bias,” and it is one of the most common biases used in hiring.  People like to feel connection, validation, and ultimately, a feeling of comfort, and are biologically inclined to gravitate towards people like ourselves. This tends to impact our hiring practices, whether conscious or not. By looking for people from different backgrounds, we invite innovation and opportunities to grow by building teams with people who might actually change our minds.

Don’t just hear people, listen.

Listening has three parts: patience, vulnerability and compassion.  Learning to listen opens the door to a new way of thinking. Engaging a new perspective different than yours might force you to admit someone has a better idea than you, but this practice leads to process.  None of these characteristics come easily and need to be practiced. 

Create a high trust environment

Solving problems as they come can eliminate small hiccups from becoming large obstacles. By fostering a genuine environment that allows for mistakes, you encourage people to feel comfortable taking risks with new ideas.

Look for common ground

Constructive conflict can only occur in an environment where respect is present.  The quickest route to respect is finding shared values. Last week, in a weekly staff meeting, we went around the room and shared our “love language,” as described by author Gary Chapman in his book, “The Five Love Languages.” Every person in the room shared “words of affirmation,” as one of theirs, creating a common thread of understanding each other.  

No one likes a fight, or to feel uncomfortable, but constructive conflict is worth some temporary discomfort, because from this discomfort, comes growth.  So step into the ring, and may the best idea win!


This blog was written by Mindy Fineout. Mindy is a Senior Technical Recruiter for Yoh and has been supporting the Gaming and IT industry for the past 10 years. She lives in Seattle, and enjoys spending time with her family, writing, cycling and guitar.

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