From Pain to Gain: Leveraging Workplace Conflict
Written on the 24 February 2013 by Dr Liz Berney
Given the increased complexity of today's technological, political and economic environment, one must not only prevent and resolve conflict but also, leverage it to enhance creativity and innovation at work.
Once dysfunctional conflict occurs between individuals or groups (e.g., control battles), working relationships and processes often break down. Each person or group creates stories about the other that are often inaccurate and based on their own view of the world.
So how do you make conflict functional and useful, building on differences in background, expertise, perspective to enhance work relationships and positively impact organizational effectiveness?
1. Active Listening:
Don't think about what you have to say next, or nod your head understandingly while thinking about your "to do" list, but really truly get curious. What is this person thinking? Experiencing? Worried about? What must that be like?
To unhook, you first have to know that you are hooked (feeling reactive) and then how to unhook yourself.Let's just say that you are finding the other person or group antagonistic. What can you do? Ask yourself if this is really about you. In most cases, it's not. Ask yourself what is the person or group is worried about? Then take a deep breath, settle into your chair and imagine shaking off the antagonism. Try to empathize with their concerns. Repeat their concerns back to them and ask them if you "got" their concerns and always, always say: "Tell Me More." The 3 simple words that can create a communication breakthrough!
If you can't stop reacting, ask for a break before you say something you will regret and ask to meet again in a specific period of time. Make sure you come back calmer and more neutral. Focus on the goal you are trying to achieve.
3. Move to Interests:
Ask others questions about what is most important to them. Here are some questions that work for me: "What would you most like? What would that look like? How would that serve you or your organization? How do you think I can help you?"
4. Share Your Interests:
If others feel listened to by you, they will most likely ask you questions in return. If they don't, offer your thoughts in a clear, neutral, non-accusatory way. Don't focus on your desired end results (your position). Rather, address WHY you want what you want (your underlying interests). Discussing positions rather than interests often exacerbates conflict because it can lead to black and white thinking, believing only one party can get his/her way.
5. Explore Options:
Repeat your understanding of their concerns and goals and once again, ask for clarification. Restate your concerns and goals. Then introduce the idea of a "Third Way", that both of you can get what you want with a little creativity. Invite them to brainstorm (remember no critiquing) a plethora of options. Don't stop at 2-3 ideas. Sitting through lulls during brainstorming can lead to paradigmatic shifts and brilliant ideas. Make sure to separate inventing from deciding and have fun collaboratively generating ideas.
6. Create a Win-Win:
Together cluster the options by theme, analyze their costs and benefits and agree on one that meets both of your interests. Or incorporate pieces of different options to create a joint and unique "win-win." Remember, the final option is unlikely to look exactly like either of your initially desired end results (and that's a good thing!).Managing conflict is a key competency for staff, managers and executives alike. However, most leaders try to resolve conflict through re-organizing, staffing changes and coaching for the "problem person". Leveraging conflict, i.e., using the conflict to bring out different views and ideas, is the key to enhancing learning and creativity across individuals and teams in organizations. Learn cutting edge "how to'" to leverage conflict. Dr. Berney is an expert in organizational conflict and gives keynotes to leaders internationally on leveraging conflict at work.
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Author:Dr Liz Berney