Three Responses To Conflict

by  Mike Henry  |  Team Dynamics
Three Responses to Conflict

Our stated topic this month is responding to conflict. It was carefully chosen. We can’t avoid conflict. Conflict comes with purpose.

Think of conflict like friction. We create friction as we pursue purpose.

Consider the piston of an engine or the wheel of a car. As they do their job, they interact with other engine parts or with the axle and the road.

Purpose creates movement which in turn creates friction. The axle’s purpose is to hold the wheel in a particular place relative to the vehicle. The road’s purpose is to provide ease of movement.

When working with people, the more we work toward our chosen purpose, or our desired goals, the more possible and noticeable conflict becomes. Conflict is an outcome. We must manage it. To avoid conflict, one must abandon purpose.

Thinking on the subject, I came up with three responses to conflict:

  1. Face Conflict Head On – Often we think we have managed conflict when the other party is simply passive in their reactions. They’re secretly looking for a job and talking behind your back. You think they’re OK with what’s going on. You even think they’re doing a pretty good job. But they’re dying to leave. They’re looking for a chance to exit. Just because we don’t sense the conflict or feel the heat doesn’t mean conflict is not in the room, or on the team. We hide our conflict when we don’t think we can deal with it effectively. Our passivity comes from perceived powerlessness. Face the conflict. Don’t run from it. Look for the places where conflict should exist. If you know you’re giving someone all of the worst work, find a way to reward the effort or compensate for the grief. Address the issue. For each team member, try to gauge their stress and conflict level. Address it openly. Face the conflict on your team and deal with it.
  2. Pursue Engagement – Conflict tempts many of us to withdraw. When we see team members begin to withdraw, we must restore engagement. The sign of engagement is energy. Pay attention to your team members and look for signs of engagement. True engagement creates energy. Everything else drains energy. Look for signs of renewable energy in your team as a sign of true engagement. Often we see this renewable energy in the actions our team members take without being asked. Notice the energy when they go the extra mile. Appreciate when they give a full explanation instead of a simple, easy answer. If you look closely, you can see the places where your teammates get fired up. Find ways to connect their best energy with the team’s greatest need.
  3. Respect – We each engage when we believe our power will create a personal win. In team situations, we look for a win-win goal – one that produces a win for each member as well as for the whole team. In The Character-Based Leader, I wrote about WIN n where each stakeholder wins. Respect is what we do when we pursue WIN n. We want our team members to be engaged, so we try to make sure a win for the team produces a win for each team member.

When conflict arises, give each person the benefit of the doubt. Help each person choose to appreciate the team’s win and the individual win. When we respect others, we give them the freedom to make the best choices based on the best information.

Respect enables team members to pursue their purpose. Invest the energy to understand your teammates and their purpose. Your understanding will inform your own purpose and help you achieve the team’s purpose.

When conflict impacts your goals, face it, pursue engagement, and demonstrate respect.

Care to add any comments or responses of your own? Let me know what you think.
Photo Credit: Fotolia freshidea

About The Author

Articles By mike-henry
Chief Instigator (Founder) of Lead Change Group and VP of IT for a mid sized technology company. Passionate about character-based leadership and making a positive difference.  »  View Profile

What People Are Saying

Paul LaRue  |  23 Jul 2015  |  Reply

Appreciate the thoughts behind this post Mike!

What I derive from this is the sense that we need to be perceptive beyond ourselves in order to sense and recognize conflict. And then we need to embrace it in order to fully resolve it.

If we can look outside of ourselves and our perceived needs to see the situation holistically, we will create much stronger engagement which will build our people up that much stronger.

Mike Henry Sr.  |  23 Jul 2015  |  Reply

Paul, thanks for the excellent suggestion. A holistic view almost requires us to remove ourselves so we can sense and see what others are experiencing. Great way to phrase it. Thanks! Mike…

John Smith  |  28 Jul 2015  |  Reply

Hi, Mike – excellent post and I enjoyed your analogy of cars, roads, and purposes.

Your three focus areas are essential to create healthy and strong relationships. I particularly believe that the second element, of engagement rather than withdrawal is key. You are absolutely right that we tend to avoid conflict, which is why we have so darn many hallway conversations in muted tones after important meetings and sessions.

I think power differentials play a role in this, but if we are to truly lead, we have to display the courage to engage, even when it might cost us. Energy indeed comes from engagement, but sometimes we also have to use our energy to create that engagement (not to go all “chicken or egg” on you:).

Very useful and powerful post, Buddy:)


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