Conflict – So Misunderstood and So Beneficial

Ask anyone in your organization the first thing that comes to mind when they think about “conflict”, and it’s negative.  This is why conflict continues to be one of the most misunderstood concepts in the workplace.

Conflict is the productive exchange of diverse ideas and opinions in a focused, efficient, unfiltered way. Teams must engage in conflict.  Without conflict, decision-making suffers and relationships among team members stagnate.  Worse, if conflict does not surface, it tends to degenerate to mean-spirited, back-channel comments made behind closed doors.

Redefining conflict as passionate debate is necessary to achieve resolution.  Conflict generally arises when two “A Players” have distinctly different points of view over a key emotional issue.  Here’s the challenge: they both think they’re right and guess what, they both can be!  So now what do you do?

The 5 key options around conflict are: avoid it (we both lose); get aggressive (I win-you lose); acquiesce and give in (I lose-you win); compromise (mini win/lose for both of us) or collaborate and resolve (I win-you win).

Teams must learn to collaborate and resolve conflict.  It’s about having the mindset and communication skills to work it out.

To be really good at working through team conflict, here are the 8 things you need to do:

  1. Introduce and acknowledge that the topic is difficult; call out that it’s a conflict.
  2. Watch out for artificial harmony – where people sit in silence and don’t participate.
  3. Have strong facilitation of the team, someone operating like an air traffic controller – controlling and guiding participation.
  4. Get everyone to weigh in – it’s usually only the most emotional, passionate people who speak up.
  5. After a timed discussion, pause to define and articulate the issue clearly.
  6. Brainstorm ideas and possible solutions then write them down.
  7. Come to a decision. This may need to be forced by the leader or facilitator, or the leader may need to take a stand to break the tie.
  8. Don’t strive for consensus – what we call “agree and commit”.  This is fine if you can get it, but strive for “disagree and commit”.  You may not agree but you must totally commit to and support the decision.

 

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