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.