Updated: Dec 5, 2022
Conflict. Avoid it, Embrace it, or Manage it?
Conflict is a normal and natural occurrence of interacting with one another. The cost of resolving conflict is negligible relative to the cost of leaving conflicts unresolved. Difficult behavior can inhibit performance in others and will only deteriorate if left alone, contaminating more people and incurring hidden costs for the organization. It takes many forms like rudeness, yelling, shunning, mobbing, gossiping, refusing to talk to or acknowledge others, harassing, incessant complaining to supervisors, ignoring directives, and slow working.
FOCUS ON INTERESTS NOT POSITIONS . . .
A basic problem in communication lies not so much in conflicting positions, but in the conflict between each person’s needs, desires, concerns, and fears. One person may say to another, “You’re such a perfectionist in everything you do around here, and I’m tired of you thinking you’re always right.” That position is something the speaker has decided upon, but the interest is what caused that decision. The underlying interest might be a lack of training and a fear of competition with a skilled coworker. The other person may not knowingly be competing but merely trying to do a good job, but the perception enables the conflict. Interests motivate people and are the silent movers behind the hubbub of positions
WHY IS LISTENING SO IMPORTANT . . .
Listening is an art by which we use empathy to reach across the space between us. Passive attention doesn’t work. Not only is listening an active process, it often takes a deliberate effort to suspend our own needs and reactions. To listen well you must hold back what you have to say and control the urge to interrupt or argue. The art of listening requires a submersion of the self and immersion in the other. This is not always easy, especially when we are interested but too concerned with controlling or instructing or reforming the other person to be truly open to their point of view.
Conflict resolution is frequently one of the most challenging aspects of team leadership. Here are some of the ways team members can help manage conflicts:
• Listen with empathy and respect
• Allow others to express their concerns
• Look deeper, beyond what is being said, to understand the real meaning
• Be self-reflective and accountable—acknowledge if you are at fault
• Express emotions in a positive way—to encourage understanding and conflict resolution
• Prioritize—try to separate what is important and what gets in the way of understanding
• Learn from difficult behaviours—use what you have observed to see if outcomes have been affected
Good leaders, recognize that conflict:
• Doesn’t need to be destructive.
• Should be leveraged rather than “managed” or “controlled.”
• Can be handled with compassion. Taking a compassionate approach could mean more—but healthier—conflict.
Give the other person ownership in the resolution. Don’t sell your ideas but engage in a joint problem-solving discussion. Ask what’s important and be sure agreement is reached in respect for each of you.
Conflict Deep Dive
Sometimes you engage in conflict without fear or malice. Other times you avoid conflict, or you jump into it with the intent to win at all costs. Take the time to dive into your relationship with conflict to understand how you portray yourself during an altercation and when you engage in healthy conflict to advance an idea or project. Being self-aware during conflict will help you to understand how you show up to the conversation, what image you are projecting, and how you are making others feel during the conflict conversation. This is only the first step, once you understand how you perceive the situation, you can start asking others how they are perceiving you during conflict conversations to see if your perception is what others see or if there is a disconnect, or blind spot, in your behaviour, image, and language.
Once you are able to create safe places for healthy conflict conversations to occur, you can then work on building a trust-based team where every member holds a safe place for open, honest, and healthy conflict conversations. When teams can come together, debate openly and honestly about ideas without feeling like they will be shamed or judged, your team will start moving towards results-based productivity instead of being bogged down in conflict.
Likky Lavji is the Blind Spot Navigator helping leaders and teams understand conflict and the truth behind each other's behaviours. Visit his website to take the free Blind Spot Assessment.