Healthy conflict begins with an awareness and appreciation of differing perspectives. When you realize that everyone brings to the table his or her own unique set of perceptions based on their genetics, generation, culture, gender and other experiences, it should not be surprising that everyone can’t agree on everything all the time. As Walter Lippmann, writer and political commentator aptly asserts, “Where all think alike, no one thinks very much.” The goal then isn’t that everyone completely agrees with every decision made.
The goal is that all people know that they have been heard and that their ideas were seriously considered in the final decision. Productive conflict management helps take what could be a disruption and turns it into an opportunity. For this to happen, the goal is not to reduce conflict but to create a safe place for people to share differing perspectives with mutual respect.
This said, there are a number of different conflict styles that we will tend to default to if we are not careful. See if any of these sounds like you.
- In this style it is all about winning, not the subject or substance of the conflict. You will win at all costs, even if it means exaggerating or even flat out lying to “prove your point.” You look for those “zingers” that will make the other person stop talking, and thus letting you win.
- This conflict style is all about ending the conflict at all costs. In this style you will acquiesce, and not really talk about what needs to be talked about because you just want it to be over. Statements like “fine, fine, you win” or “the details really don’t matter, let’s just stop fighting” are indicative of this style.
- This style is one of the least productive. Conflict or disagreements are avoided at all costs. This style promotes fake unity while tempers are seething below the surface. There is no outlet for the conflict so the relationship ends up suffering since real issues are never discussed.
- This style seeks to resolve the conflict but doesn’t really take the time to find the best solution. Usually the way the conflict is resolved is with both parties giving up something. Even though the result seems “fair” it often ends up being a lose- lose solution.
- This style seeks that win-win solution. It often requires more time to find a resolution and it requires that we treat other with great respect and appreciation for each other. The collaboration style has to have both parties check their egos and anger at the door and seek a solution based on common values, passions and goals. The solution then honors those shared values, passions and goals so it is a win for all concerned.
Did you identify with one of more of these conflict styles? Work to become aware of how you handle conflict and pay attention to what is and isn’t working. Notice your patterns. Then notice the default conflict styles of your team members. Clearly you will have varying conflict styles on your team.
Using this new awareness and knowledge, the goal is to transform difficult conversations and conflicts into opportunities for productive conversations and healthy conflict. Figuring out a way to move more toward the collaborative style then becomes the focus. Brainstorm practical ways that you and your team can begin to work together more collaboratively.