“I don’t have conflicts in my team”.
A senior manager shared when I introduced myself as a conflict management consultant.
* Yes, my people are super nice and friendly. It’s like a family.
- So in your personal experience, I ask gently– families don’t have tensions? arguments? disagreements?
* Of course, but not conflicts.
- What is your definition of conflict?
* Conflict is confrontation, it’s about fighting and damaging the relationship without repair. I would prefer to eat bugs and jump out of airplanes than to have those “conversations”.
- I agree, violent confrontations are not something you would like to have in your family or your workplace. But that is not ‘conflict’. That is what happens when we avoid conflict or manage it badly. It turns into a crisis which I agree is very costly and hard to recover from.
* So what is Conflict in your view? He asked with curiosity
- Conflict is an energy, a spark that happens when different people interact. It’s natural as we are all different and we don’t see everything in the same way. It’s an opportunity to explore and understand each other better. If you choose to ignore that energy, it will foster more assumptions and misunderstandings, more frustration and eventually will escalate to confrontation. If we learn to manage conflict when it first emerges – we can harness it to more understanding, trust, innovation and productivity. All teams need that.
* Let’s say I can identify this energy early - what do I do?
- Managing conflict early is much easier than managing the after math of crisis. If you feel a tension between you and a colleague, that nagging feeling that something is not quite right. You go to him or her and ask – I am feeling a tension between us- is everything ok? (Or even- are we ok?) And then just listen, be curious, ask many questions, make sure you understood correctly.
And only then you might say – I was looking at it differently and share your perspective and interpretation. Make it not an awkward moment but an opportunity to get to know each other.
If you understand there is a problem – ask – what can we do about it? think together about solutions that might work for both of you. And finally, always be grateful for this tension, as it triggered a conversation that helped your relationship grow.
* That makes sense, I guess. But would you expect me to initiate a conversation for every tension I identify? I can do that all day…
- In a recent study(1) they found that conflict at work due to poor communication (no. 1 cause of conflict in the workplace) has doubled since 2008. A lot of this is attributed to the changes from management of in-office workers, to managing remote and hybrid workers. Once you allow a flow of communication, tune in when tensions are high, and listen carefully to your people, the less likely this tension will escalate into a time-consuming effort. Like everything with time and practice, it will become like a ‘second nature”.
* Well, I will give it a go.
- Wonderful. Let me know what you discover. I am always here for you.
“One of the tests of leadership is the ability to recognize a problem before it becomes an emergency”
Arnold H. Glasow