(Notes from our training interventions involving Leadership teams that wanted to make the best of diversity of opinion and personalities in their leadership team with clients in Gurgaon, India)
- Productive Conflict – is it an oxymoron?
- Is conflict always bad?
- Can conflict be managed in way that it becomes a winning attribute of a team – more so a strategic or leadership teams?
Let’s start with the “don’ts” of making conflict productive.
Teamwork is simple but hard work and here is the simple list that every member on the team must commit to:
- Be not to hurry up a conversation. Each member commits to demonstrate a high level of empathy that is practically observed as the habit of asking more questions and listening actively.
- Members do not assume that they know what others might be thinking or feeling. They suspend judgment till they hear everything that is required to be known.
- Members commit not to exploit weaknesses they know of the other person.
- Do not mix personalities with ideas.
Based on some of the interventions we have done, using DiSC as the baseline self-awareness and interpersonal tool, we reckon that it is possible to transform disagreement and even discord into positive outcomes for the team.
Here are some simple ways of making conflict productive:
Strategy 1 – Demonstrate empathy – Get into the other person’s shoes. Challenge your own perspective. A simple way of doing this is to image that you are a different person with different goals, thoughts and feelings, it is important to break down assumptions. Assumptions especially of other’s personality and decisions are the drivers of unproductive conflict. Cross check your understanding of the other perspective by rephrasing, restating and summarizing. Use examples and analogies to summarize.
Strategy 2 – Create Options – Just like in a brainstorming process, productive conflict practices involve a bias for creating options. Because people have different goals and bring varied experience to the table, an advantage of engaging productive conflict is to generate lots of ideas. It is important to suspend judgement of ideas when creating them. Lots of ideas is a good idea. BY listening to lots of ideas, we also learn how to accept other’s ideas and commit to them.
Strategy 3 – Be expressive – Being open and authentic with your feelings is important for building trust. In the process of making conflict productive, one must try and be expressive. Watch out for hot buttons. While it is important to address issues upfront and be genuine with concerns, do not step over other’s hot buttons.
Strategy 4 – Admit responsibility for the conflict – Be the first one to take responsibility for any heartburn that may have been caused in the process of conflict. Demonstrate initiative to move towards reconciliation. Recovering from the loss of trust takes time and commitment. Don’t expect immediate results.
Strategy 5 – Be responsive not reactive – It is important to gain patience and be reflective. Provide time and space to others to reflect as well. Many conflicts are a result of impulsive behaviours and reactive habits. Practice in being responsive and not reactive.
Strategy 6 – Future Focus – Productive conflict can work for you only when everyone decides to focus on the future and starts communicating with a sense of optimism. By knowing that conflict is often short-lived, and can be an advantage for a team, it is important shift the focus of the team to the future.