Leadership Perspective: Redefining Conflict and Disagreement as Creative Tools

Conflict cannot survive without your participation. – Wayne Dyer

Conflict ResultsWhen CPP Inc.–publishers of the Myers-Briggs Assessment and the Thomas-Kilmann Conflict Mode Instrument–commissioned a study on workplace conflict, they found that in 2008, U.S. employees spent 2.8 hours per week dealing with conflict. This amounts to approximately $359 billion in paid hours (based on average hourly earnings of $17.95), or the equivalent of 385 million working days.

I work with many leaders in many different kinds of organizations. One common factor is that they avoid facing conflict. It’s our normal tendency to avoid confronting conflict directly. We want to “sugar coat” the response or speak indirectly to the problem, rather than speaking calmly and directly about the facts. We don’t want to hurt other people’s feelings.

In my ebook, Creating and Sustaining Healthy Teams: Preventing and Managing Team Conflict, I provide strategies for preventing and dealing with conflict. It’s never resolved, not as long as people are alive and breathing. Conflict is a sign of energy and creativity. The only time you might not have conflict is if you run a cemetery and that’s only when you don’t have to deal with families.

If we avoid a conflict, then the situation gets worse and costs more money. Eventually, it damages relationships. Effective leadership depends on relationships.

When I facilitate group planning sessions or group problem resolution sessions, I ask people to take disagreement and conflict, and move it from the “Weapons” category to the “Creative Tools” category. We come to consensus that it’s fun to disagree and that we attack the facts and not the people. This frees up participants to speak openly and directly to the issues. One other important fact is to ask people to use “I” language and state facts and not feelings. Saying “you” can appear accusatory and might set up conflict  in itself.

I find that very few people, in deciding to utilize consensus as a group planning tool,  understand the meaning of consensus, so we do a group activity to define how we reach consensus, and then define what we just did.

Consensus is NOT:

  • A compromise
  • A power sub-group
  • Group think
  • Unanimous agreement

Consensus IS:

  • Giving consent to the answer that is best for the organization and not just for yourself
  • A Win/Win
  • A decision hammered out by a group and backed by relationship
  • A longer process
  • A more complete process
  • A process for finding better solutions than first imagined
  • Listening
  • Non-judgmental against others

We are afraid to confront others when things are not right as we see them. If you look up “confront” in the dictionary you find the following definition: “challenge somebody face to face.” It literally means “in front of.” It doe not say to attack or upset someone.

The musical conductor stops the rehearsal and tells the trumpets that they are one dynamic level too loud and to adjust down one level. They are not upset; in fact, if the conductor does not deal with the situation, that conductor is perceived to be incompetent. How many times have we all experienced leaders who demonstrate incompetence by not dealing with situations. We are perceived to be weak leaders because we do not lead, we follow in front of others.

The leadership dynamic is to make calm, conscious contact as soon as possible, and speak the facts clearly and kindly. Being direct does not mean being unkind. Be clear. Be concise. Be factual. Be honest. Be caring. Be assertive and not aggressive. Be you.

Hugh Ballou
The Transformational Leadership Strategist

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(c) 2014 Hugh Ballou. All rights reserved.