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The real cause of conflict among colleagues

In Reality-Based Leadership™, personalizing conflict is a luxury we can no longer afford! A great number of leaders put themselves in the position of judge and jury during interpersonal or team conflicts – deciding right and wrong, doling out verdicts and issuing consequences. In times of conflict, what your followers need most from you is not empathy. They need you to get real, step up, and help them see their circumstances differently so that they can create better professional relationships and generate better results.

In Reality-Based Leadership™, personalizing conflict is a luxury we can no longer afford! A great number of leaders put themselves in the position of judge and jury during interpersonal or team conflicts – deciding right and wrong, doling out verdicts and issuing consequences. In times of conflict, what your followers need most from you is not empathy. They need you to get real, step up, and help them see their circumstances differently so that they can create better professional relationships and generate better results.

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It is extremely easy and tempting for employees to attribute conflict to difficult personalities or the incapabilities of others. It is even easier for leaders to collude with employees in the personalizing of conflict, spending valuable time and energy listening to the stories and mandating that all involved “get along.” What is the reward for an amazing investment of energy, innovation and focus of all involved? Mediocrity, stagnation, and a miserable status quo. Once again, leaders fail their people by mismanaging the energy of all.

Why do so many leaders get caught up in a form of helping that actually hurts? They believe that the root cause of all conflict is, in fact, the people – those who don’t get “it” or work consciously against “it.” This belief is simply untrue. The root cause of all conflict is not the people. The root cause of all conflict is ambiguity or lack of clarity. Good news! Clarity is easily attainable with the right techniques.

But before you can help others, you need to go first! To depersonalize conflict and find a way forward, try to employ the following techniques, and when you have them mastered, pass them on:

Do a Reality Check – A great deal of the conflict we encounter is manufactured in our own minds. When faced with conflict, we tend to quickly move from the bare facts of the situation to create our own mental story that paints ourselves as a victim and helpless, while someone else is the villain. In actuality, it is not the cause of the conflict itself that causes us stress, but the story we devise about the events that causes our stress. Get back to the facts of the situation and put your story to rest.

Get Clear About the Motives – Would you rather be right or happy? Too many times, you may abandon the organizational goals in order to achieve your own motives. Pray that you may be released from your need for love, approval and appreciation. Without those motives, you can lead others to achieve the goals at hand.

Clearly Model the Role you Would Like to See Others Play – Be the change you wish to see in the world. The only thing missing in a meeting or situation is that which you, yourself, are not offering in the moment. The minute you begin judging others, you stop adding value. Seek instead to understand the views of others, practice those virtues, which you have determined to be lacking in others such as open-mindedness, patience, inclusiveness, tolerance and appreciation. Get rid of your double standards, and stop expecting others to excel where you have not yet mastered.

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See Others with Great Clarity – When faced with those whose personalities are different from ours, or whose behaviors have reached a stress-induced inappropriateness, work to see through their behaviors in order to identify their actual needs or goals. Ask yourself, “What are they striving for?” Once you identify their goal, ask yourself, “How could I help them achieve their goal?”

Move to a Clearer, Higher Perspective – Learn to sense when the conflict is getting personalized and be prepared to move quickly to a professional perspective by asking the group to clarify the overarching goal of their work together. A common goal is one that is big enough to be common for all, such as customer loyalty, increased sales or organizational growth. With the eyes finally on the prize, bring out the best in each team member by asking questions such as, “Given the goal identified, what is the best way to move forward? What it the best that each of you can contribute?”

Reveal a Clear Way Forward – With the common goal now clear, go one level deeper and have those involved in the conflict identify their more personal goals of their divisions, or roles. Frame the situation as a box with the overarching goal at the top and the individual goals as sides of the box. Most conflicts involve disparate parties truly believing that their individual goals are mutually exclusive and are thinking in terms of achieving one OR the other – or achieving one at the cost of another. Replace the “OR” in this equation with “AND” and engage the conflicting parties in problem solving.

Remember, you rock and Cy rocks!

Lead on my friend.