Whether we are leaders of a large or small team, or working individually, one thing is for sure- conflict will happen in one shape or another. In fact, one could argue that without conflict, our achievements and accomplishments would fall flat. The very existence of conflict empowers us to work harder and examine many different angles before completing our final result. How does conflict motivate us and why do we really need it to be stronger leaders?
First we must differentiate between healthy and toxic conflict.
Toxic conflict occurs when leaders or team members carry a hidden agenda within themselves. This internal “ negative chatter” impacts every interaction they have; it colors every decision as well as every communication. The detrimental result of toxic conflict is it impedes progress from occurring-it prevents all action. In addition to inactivity, toxic conflict can destroy trust in relationships as it preys on others’ weaknesses. When leaders see this type of conflict:
- Recognize it
- Label it
- Address it- Get to the bottom of the cause by helping an individual be aware of how they are coming across and disrupting a solution.
- Reframe it- Think of a different way to view the obstacles, keeping a more open-minded perspective.
Healthy conflict is what every leader hopes for on their team and when they interact with others. It occurs when two or more different points of view are presented and evaluated. The reason it is healthy is that having various ideas and suggestions actually adds to a more substantial result. Viewing a project from many vantage points allows for deeper discussions and analyses. Healthy conflict can help a team move from “group think” to a well thought-out comprehensive plan. When leaders see this type of conflict:
- Welcome it
- Don’t avoid it- One of the biggest contributors to team failure, is when leadership doesn’t address conflict. Be a courageous leader and tackle it head on.
- Encourage more discussion-This is a great opportunity to brainstorm and elicit many different opinions. Facilitate a respectful discussion, where everyone feels empowered to contribute. Do not be afraid to have too many ideas.
- Model respectful language- If a leader demonstrates clear, open and respectful communication, others will naturally follow. That is an impactful way to keep the dialogue professional and caring.
- Ask more questions- It’s always good to have the team clarify their contributions. Asking questions also demonstrates that a leader is giving value to what is being presented.
- Evaluate the ideas together- Include everyone on the decision by either voting for a consensus or attempting to integrate as many of the suggestions as possible.
- Thank everyone for their participation- If people feel they are being heard and their ideas are being considered, a leader will end up with a far superior result.
Conflict can be very healthy for a team. The way a leader facilitates the conflict is key. How have you dealt with conflict? What are some of your success stories?