Written by Philip Wright, SHIFT Collective
Conflict is the answer to healthy relationships and a healthy team.
Putting the words “conflict” and “health” together sounds like an oxymoron doesn’t it? Aren’t these two words completely opposed to each other? Well, in some cases the answer is yes but if conflict is handled properly it can absolutely transform relationships and transform a team. I’m talking about productive conflict.
The growth of all great relationships has required productive conflict. Teams who are successful and flourish over the shortest period of time all engage in productive conflict when discussing strategies and ideas. Most of us have a natural inclination to avoid conflict but that avoidance encourages dangerous tension to build. Most people don’t quit their job; they quit their boss and it’s usually because this tension is allowed to build and build until it finally blows.
Unproductive conflict happens when people feel they aren’t being heard and problems aren’t being resolved leaving these individuals feeling frustrated and even angry. So how do we channel conflict in a healthy way that encourages harmony and growth? Let’s look at five ways.
1. Listen … a lot! The average person listens for a grand total of 17 seconds before the urge to speak overtakes them. Make it your moto to “seek first to understand then to be understood”. Set the rules that everyone has the opportunity to speak and everyone else listens. Using reflective listening, repeat what the individual has just said. This approach will engender a feeling of being heard. The person can also clarify any information you may be missing or misunderstanding.
2. Debating vs. Attacking. Create an atmosphere that encourages discussion that does not include pointing fingers at someone else. When an individual is feeling they are being attacked, defenses immediately go up. Any hope of transparency and honesty is lost in that type of environment. A healthy debate is absolutely fine but it is off-limits to question a person’s character or motives.
3. Show a genuine interest in what you are hearing. When people feel they are being heard and that you are truly interested in their view point it’s amazing the wealth of information they have to share. In many cases, the first comments made will be surface comments meaning they are testing the water to see how safe the environment is. You have to be patient and give some time for people to feel they can wade a little deeper into the water and express how they truly feel.
4. Keep the common goal front and center. Though the expression of differing ideas and strategies is encouraged, keep a continual reminder before everyone that you are a team. The desired outcome is not simply venting in a safe environment, which is important, but the focus is a collaborative working together to reach a shared goal.
5. You don’t need 100% agreement. An absolute agreement from everyone may be too much to ask for. Keep as a goal a general agreement. Thank everyone for their contribution and that every opinion, comment and suggestion is greatly appreciated and vital to the purpose of the discussion. An “agree to disagree” for the sake of the forward movement of the team should be commended.
Make the choice right now to use productive conflict to your advantage. Let these five steps turn what was once your foe into one of your favourites!
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