Our service club had an “uncomfortable” meeting today. The issue had to do with an award we give and the impact of not winning had on a candidate and his family. Just as well could have been a staff meeting. One member was put in the position of delivering the news of the situation and worried the impact would have on another member who was directly involved in the situation. He delivered the information to everyone and left the meeting feeling terrible about the impact on the other member. I left feeling good about the situation as it provided a classic example of the benefits of conflict. Without conflict very little progress takes place.
Patrick Lencioni in his classic, The Five Dysfunctions of a Team, points out that great teams argue. My family is always arguing over something. Great sports teams often have heated arguments in the process of playing a tough opponent. And this is good.
Life is conflict. The act of breathing involves conflict between a person and gravity. Yet most of my life I avoided conflict. And I considered such behavior a strength. Wrong-O.
- Conflict allows a broader range of views to be examined and provides everyone validation of their view.
- Conflict avoidance on the other hand, restricts viewpoints and usually delays the resolution of the problem.
- Worse yet, avoidance allows for displaced aggression.
Ever found yourself in an argument with a loved one, wondering how you got there? When you later discovered the culprit was an earlier incident one of you avoided, you know what I mean. What a waste.
For conflict to work you need TRUST.
- Trust takes the personal edge off the table and allows for more honest discussion.
- When groups lack trust, conflict is minimal and so is the benefit of teamwork.
Even with trust, conflict resolution needs some rules. In my conflict resolution course we teach to focus on the problem or the behavior rather than the individual. Several other techniques help, such as reflective listening and third-party participation. Yet without trust, the rules don’t matter.
Our meeting offered a great example of productive conflict resolution.
- Everyone shared and no one focused on the individuals.
- The problem was given historical context and the group moved to solve the problem.
- Some of us followed up with the presenter to make sure he focused on the positive.
- The reason this worked was simple: We trust each other.
So if you find yourself in conflict, ask this question, “Is this a trust issue or a difference of viewpoint?” If trust exists, then get it out and get on with it. If trust is missing, focus on building it or moving on. Without it, you’re wasting your time.