Say "Yes" to Conflict

Peace and harmony.  Wouldn’t life be simpler if we all just got along?  Perhaps there is something to this philosophy but in our world of work, peace and harmony is easier said than done.  Opinions need to be heard, ideas need to be expressed, and passionate debates should break out unobstructed.  Conflict is good in this sense.  You can say “yes” to conflict!

It is true that each of us has a different tolerance for conflict and even a different interpretation of what it looks like.  Some individuals may hold back for fear of stepping into the chaos of conflict.  Individuals who don’t hold back, who jump in for the win, may be viewed as too outspoken and overpowering.  Neither holding back or going to full on attack is the right balance.  How can we approach conflict so it is constructive? 

Author Patrick Lencioni views conflict on a continuum from artificial harmony at one end to mean-spirited personal attacks at the other end.  Between the two extreme ends is a large playing field for constructive conflict.   You and your team mates need to get comfortable playing on that field – engaging in tough conversations.  To increase the team’s comfort level, establish rules for the “game”. 

Try this exercise with your team to establish conflict ground rules. 

Set the stage in a team meeting…

  • Help them see how the team is currently successful, and how healthy conflict can help the team be even better. Assure they see the value in the team’s debate of ideas. 
  • Explore the idea of healthy and unhealthy behaviors during conflict, that there are varying perspectives on what healthy and unhealthy may look like, and that we all need to stretch our skills for having productive conflict.
  • Ask for their help in establishing some ground rules the team will abide by. Break the team into small groups of 3 to 4 and ask them to meet before the next team meeting to discuss, agree on and propose a list of acceptable and unacceptable behaviors in conflict. 

In the follow up team meeting…

  • Allow each small group to share their results and the reasoning for their list.
  • Discuss ideas.
  • Combine the results from each group and narrow to a handful of “rules” to live by – including how the rules will be reinforced by the group.

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