Some of us really don’t like conflict.
We would much rather get along than get cross with each other, and a workplace where people are nice to each other is a good thing, right? Well, actually not. Being “nice” feels comfortable but may not be a very healthy or productive place to work. “Nice” is really not nice when you’re putting on a façade to avoid dealing with conflict. Instead, it becomes the breeding ground for a dysfunctional team.
FIVE things You MUST know about conflict:
Conflict is simply two opposing forces.
We tend to view conflict as some weird force that overtakes us, turning us into wild-eyed raging lunatics. Let’s take the confusion out of conflict. It isn’t some overwhelming mysterious curse. It’s simply two opposing forces. If we understand this about conflict it will change our approach, and our tendency to avoid conflict at all cost, which conflict avoiders tend to do because they believe all conflict is bad.
Not all conflict is BAD.
Children who fall into the peacemaker role often grow up to be conflict avoiders. Are you one of those people who avoids conflict at all costs? If so this is good news for you. The fact that opposing forces exist in the world is a matter of physics and not a proposition of values. Even though there are times when conflict is a bad thing and must be recognized as such.
You need to know the difference between good and bad conflict.
Good conflict exists when there is disagreement about an idea, a concept, or a procedure. When a team deliberates the best way to complete a task and individuals disagree on how it should be done, that’s a healthy form of conflict. The process of challenging each other’s ideas helps the team come up with a better decision.
Bad conflict is when I say something ugly about your mother. It’s when I attack you, your character, or your personhood. Bad conflict has no place in a healthy team because it takes individuals into fight or flight, a condition where effective communication quickly deteriorates into combat.
Good conflict can be loud and passionate. Bad conflict can be a dispassionate whisper. Don’t judge the appropriateness of a conflict based on volume or intensity. It’s the focus of the conflict that determines whether it is good or bad.
Effective teams engage in healthy conflict. Sick teams avoid healthy conflict
A team that is afraid to engage in discussion or healthy conflict might appear cohesive and happy, but the end product of that team will be far less than what it could be when compared to a team that engages in healthy debate. Freedom to disagree is what generates the very best outcome. If you lead a team of conflict avoiders, your job is to help them understand the difference between healthy and unhealthy conflict, and then enable them to feel safe as they step into the arena of debate and challenge each other.
Conflict is scary because it can trigger fight or flight, which makes us feel emotional and out of control
Most conflict avoiders do so because they dread the emotional distress and sense of being out of control that comes with bad conflict. If you understand that conflict is simply two opposing forces, and that one can engage in debate over opposing ideas without attacking the other person, then it reduces the fear factor in conflict. It no longer poses the threat and potential for high stress, and the brain is not compelled to go into defensive fight or flight mode.
A clear understanding of the definition and nature of conflict enables a team to move towards effectiveness, healthiness, and cohesiveness.
When you’re around debate, do you cringe and attempt to change the topic? Learn to tolerate and even harness conflict. Have this conversation with your team. Help them learn to recognize the difference between good and bad conflict. Resist the urge to mediate a conflict in the next team meeting. As long as it isn’t moving towards bad conflict, encourage the dialogue. After things wrap up, congratulate your team on engaging with conflict and surviving. Remind them that even though they engaged in vigorous debate, they were able to survive and end the conversation as friends. You’ll be leading your team to a higher level of effectiveness.
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Encore Life Skills is an Authorized Five Behaviors of a Cohesive Team Partner with Wiley & Sons. We can help your team manage conflict and be more effective.