How comfortable are you in being with conflict?
Conflict is one of those words that can instantly make people uncomfortable. There’s a range to conflict, though, which has an important distinction to be made.
At one end of the range of conflict, we have: “An incompatibility between two or more opinions, principles, or interests.”
On the other: “A serious disagreement or argument, typically a protracted one.”
I was observing a meeting with a team and their leadership team. The intention of the meeting was an “ask-me-anything” type discussion in which all attendees brainstormed and voted on the topics they’d like to discuss.
The participants quickly arrived at a list of topics.
One item was particularly challenging as one of the team members, and her manager disagreed on the team’s product decision.
At first, the discussion fell into the category of incompatibility between opinions.
The team thought they had made the right decision, and management didn’t agree. However, both groups dug into their positions and wouldn’t relent on what they believed.
Before long, though, the conflict crossed a line into something far more problematic and potentially destructive.
The team members and her manager turned the conversation into a serious argument.
At this moment, I stopped the conversation and asked everyone to take a deep breath.
After a few moments of silence, I asked, “what’s trying to happen here?”
At first, the team started talking about the difference in opinion about their product direction.
With a few more powerful questions, they started to talk about the relationship between the team and leaders.
In the end, the group surfaced numerous misunderstandings and misalignments between the team and leaders. It wasn’t anyone’s fault but needed to be discussed to create alignment between the two groups.
Stepping into a charged conversation can leave you feeling anxious. In particular, when the conflict has crossed the line and has become toxic and destructive.
However, where there’s conflict, something is trying to happen.
All you need to do is to help bring life to whatever it is.
While there isn’t a recipe I follow in helping teams resolve conflict, here are a few key steps I frequently employ:
– Stop the conversation and ask people to take a deep breath. This allows everyone to see what’s happening.
– Slow the conversation down and allow all perspectives to be heard by carefully asking the different groups to bring voices to what’s happening.
– Ask powerful questions to move people from arguing about their position and seeing each other’s
– Develop clear next steps to ensure the conflict resolution continues beyond the current discussion
In my story above, I also coached the manager and employee. There was an unresolved issue in their relationship, which led to them crossing the line into their destructive argument.
Whatever you do, don’t shy away from conflict as something is trying to happen.
You’ve got this.