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What leading CEOs have said about conflict in the workplace

Posted by Celene Robert

February 9, 2022

Workplace conflict is to be expected when employees with differing backgrounds and perspectives come together to accomplish something. Left unaddressed, workplace drama can deplete morale, tank projects, drain profits and make employees quit.

Ideally, organizations use conflict as a way to grow through the respectful expression of opinions and reaching consensus. But how do leaders create an environment where this can happen?

General Motors Chair and CEO Mary Barra

Trust your instincts.

“Follow your gut,” said Barra. “You get advice from everyone, and they conflict … If the team is aligned and you have values, and you just keep going back to that through the twists and turns of the crisis, it guides you on what to do.”

JPMorgan Chase Chairman and CEO Jamie Dimon

Address conflicts immediately.

“Conflicts don't age well,” Dimon said. “Deal with issues sooner rather than later as they don't resolve themselves. They get worse." 

Netflix Chair and co-CEO Reed Hastings

If you can’t say it to them face-to-face, don’t say it.

In “No Rules Rules: Netflix and the Culture of Reinvention,” Reed describes grappling with work conflict while Pure Software CEO.

“I saw that openly voicing opinions and feedback, instead of whispering behind one another’s backs reduced the backstabbing and politics and allowed us to be faster” writes Reed. “That is when we coined the expression – ‘Only say about someone what you will say to their face.’”

Assurance President Dan Klaras

Build an open company culture.

“Imagine a leader unable to be vulnerable when being challenged, or strong with conviction when they need to offer an alternative position,” Klaras writes. “This individual wouldn’t be much of a leader and certainly wouldn’t be bringing value to their company.”

Former Capital Cities/ABC Chair and CEO Tom Murphy

Bite your tongue.

Berkshire Hathaway CEO Warren Buffett said Murphy once taught him a vital lesson about the importance of controlling one’s emotions.

 ‘‘Warren, you can always tell someone to go to hell tomorrow.’’ Buffett said Murphy told him. “It was one of the best pieces of advice I have ever received … in a heated situation, the smartest thing you can do is hold your tongue. If you lose your temper, you’re more likely to do something you might regret later on.”

Tesla and Neuralink CEO Elon Musk

Go where the problems are.

"I always move my desk to wherever--I don't really have a desk actually--I move myself to wherever the biggest problem is in Tesla," Musk said.

Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella

People want to be heard and respected.

When Nadella assumed the role of Microsoft CEO in 2014, he reportedly inherited a toxic work culture rife with backstabbing and infighting among the company’s upper ranks. He purchased a copy of the book “Nonviolent Communication” by psychologist Marshall B. Rosenberg, which focuses on connecting on the level of shared humanity, for every senior leader and told them to read it.

Google CEO Sundar Pichai

Employees should feel safe expressing their opinions.

In a memo to Google employees addressing an employee who was fired after expressing views that violated the company’s code of conduct, Pichai wrote: “First, let me say that we strongly support the right of Googlers to express themselves, and much of what was in that memo is fair to debate, regardless of whether a vast majority of Googlers disagree with it.”


Celene Robert
Celene Robert

Celene heads up the marketing at Escalon. Passionate about helping companies grow their business, she spends her days finding new ways to bring essential business services to startups, SMBs, and growth-minded companies. Based in the PNW, she’s the proud owner of 8 pairs of Birkenstocks and a sassy, cuddly cat.

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