Something Good Might Come Out of This
Some of us wish that
conflict would go away, but think about it for a moment: have you ever
experienced better results after the storm of disagreement?
Isn't this better than pretending everything is okay when itís not?
We want to resolve conflict, hoping we can get everyone to agree, but
that doesnít always happen. So
what do you do in a conflict situation when intelligent people disagree and they
are both right? What if they are both wrong?
A good place to start
is to take a look at what drives us to conflict. Abraham Maslow wrote about the
human hierarchy of needs. He said
that once basic needs are met we set them aside and higher level needs become
the center of attention. The most
basic need is survival. At this
level we are totally self-centered, and we have good reason to be.
We would do just about anything to meet our need for food, water, and
shelteróeven if it leads to conflict with other people.
Once these basic physical needs are met, we operate at a higher level,
meeting the needs of our family and community.
Now, the conflict is between my group and another group.
In the workplace, you
don't see people too worried about the basic needs for survival and security,
but you do see the higher level need for achievement.
At first, one might think that the achievement need would lead to
cooperation. However, conflict occurs at this level because we each want
to get the job done right and we all don't agree on what this means.
The conflict can be intense because there is a great deal riding on it.
Conflict is part of
living; it is neither good nor bad. The
challenge is to make conflict constructive.
In our workshop, Thriving on
Conflict, we do an exercise that demonstrates unconstructive conflict that
accomplishes nothing: two people
face each other and the only thing they are allowed to say is, "I'm
right." They repeat this phrase back and forth, and
typically, they say it louder and with more passion. Itís fun to watch
and see what people learn from this. Talking louder with more emotion doesnít
help; they get nowhere. This is
typical of many unconstructive conflict situations: people get on the defensive
and donít go anywhere positive.
We use an assessment
from Human Synergistics(T), called the Lifestyles
Inventory - Conflict(T), which allows people to see how they
typically respond in a conflict situation.
Responders fall into three categories:
Constructive responders view conflict as an
opportunity to make things better, whereas the two defensive responders view
conflict as threatening.
are four constructive approaches to conflict, and they all work.
look at the facts and figure this thing out.
Whatever the situation,
pragmatists will ask, "What can be done?" They leave out the emotions
and don't dwell on the past, saying things like, "Why did you mess this
up?" They want the facts and
are willing to let the facts lead where they lead, and they will accept any idea
that works, whether it is theirs or their opponent's.
is what I am doing about it.
Self-empowered people take
ownership and responsibility. They
don't cast blame on others; they start by working on things they control.
These people do not see themselves as powerless victims. Rather, they see
a crisis as a challenge and an opportunity, and typically, they find solutions
that no one thought were even possible.
let's get to know each other.
Before dealing with the
issues leading to conflict, these people want to deal with the person; they want
to make a human connection. On
Monday morning when they get to work, they are likely to ask, "How was your
weekend?" For them, this is a
genuine question; they really want to know.
They know from past experience that a human connection can get them
through the tough times.
know we can work this out.
The conciliator's number one
belief is the old expression "win/win."
Their first move is to figure out how the other person can win: if I can
help you get what you want, you will help me with what I want. This is not to be
confused with lose/win, where I give in to you to make you happy at my expense.
It is critical to the conciliator that both parties walk away from the conflict
feeling that their needs were met.
In summary, all four
of these approaches allow you to view conflict as an opportunity.
The pragmatic and self-empowered approaches create new ideas, breakthroughs, and
success where you have not seen it before.
People who use the relationship
builder and conciliator approaches
often improve relationships by connecting with others and having meaningful
conversation that leads to success.
four passive/defensive approaches build a protective barrier.
heals all wounds.
Avoiders figure that if you
wait it out, the problem will go away. The
problem is that time does not heal all wounds; some wounds become infected. In
moderation, avoidance is a useful strategy, but if you avoid every conflict,
fear and resentment can build because you are not doing anything to address the
underlying problems. If you find
yourself in this category, we suggest that you take another look at the
constructive self-empowered style.
If you speak the language of personal responsibility, you start believing
in your abilities and stop being the victim.
lose and you win so you will like me.
Accommodators have a
strategy of winning by losing so that others will like them.
To a limited extent, this works very well: accommodators are liked, but,
unfortunately, they are not always respected, and by giving in too easily and
not taking a stand, they miss opportunities.
The difference between the accommodator
and the relationship
builder is the latter has learned that you donít have to lose to be liked.
If you find yourself accommodating to your own detriment, continue to use
your great human relations skills, but don't always give in; support your side
of the issue. Whether you win or
not, you will walk away with the satisfaction of having been heard.
Don't be surprised if you win more than you thought you would.
we do it for you, we will have to do it for everyone.
The rules are the
regulator's defense, and to the
regulator, the rules are more important than the results.
Rules were written for a reason, but there is the letter of the law and
the spirit of the law. If you hide behind the letter of the law, you become rigid
and rules can actually work against you. What
happens when you have to take action and there are no rules? Are you going to
just sit there? We suggest instead
that you take a look at the constructive pragmatic style.
way my boss feels about it...
The insulator finds a base
of power and hides behind it. Itís like having a bodyguard.
The problem is that insulators often become groupies rather then
developing their own skills, and if the bodyguard leaves, they are lost.
They show great loyalty to the powerful person, but itís not always a
two-way relationship. Insulators are at risk of becoming the proverbial
"yes manĒ, and they are easily replaced when their base of power moves
on. If you are in this category,
take another look at the self-empowered
constructive style, and start
speaking for yourself.
As a general
observation, when a passive/defensive person wants to improve, there is a
knee-jerk reaction to do exactly the opposite.
For example, a person who is quiet at meetings might try speaking loudly
and banging on the table. Here is a
warning: the aggressive/defensive styles don't work that well either.
four aggressive/defensive approaches use a preemptive attack.
it my way.
When dominators enter the
room and join the meeting, they try to take control.
Right or wrong, they know where they are going, and they expect you to
follow. They are on the offensive,
believing that this defends them from other approaches that would cause them to
fail. They have a need either to
control others or to do it themselves; power is important, and they will work
hard to get it. We have a suggestion for the dominator: look at the
constructive relationship builder
approach. By showing some genuine
interest in the other person, you will soften
the effect of your aggressive approach. Furthermore, you may find people more
willing to follow your lead because of the supportive way you treat them.
I throw a tantrum, I get what I want.
No matter what happens, the
escalator's first reaction is to get upset; whatever the conflict level, they
raise the intensity several notches. To
make themselves look good, they attack other people, but unfortunately, this is
self-defeating. If you are an
escalator, we suggest you look to the conciliator
for an example of a constructive approach.
Understand that most people are well-intentioned, and find a way to see a
positive aspect to your opponentís position.
Sure, there may be bad intentions, too, but if you focus on the other
personís viewpoint and interest, you are more likely to have positive results.
win, you lose.
The competitor is the exact
opposite of the accommodatoróhe or
shesees winning as an opportunity to be respected and liked.
The problem with both the accommodator
and the competitor is a matter of
degree; little competition and a little accommodation can be good things.
With the competitor, though, things can get out of hand when winning
becomes the only goal, and other people may be torn down.
Remember, our goal is to get work done, and when other people are
invalidated nothing gets accomplished. The
key is to keep competition fun, uplifting, and a way for us to improve skills.
We recommend that the competitor become more pragmatic and look instead at what you are trying to accomplish;
don't equate your importance only with winning.
isnít good enough.
The first thing to recognize
about perfectionists is that they are great people to have on the team because
they do things well. There is
nothing wrong with wanting to do things right, unless it gets out of hand.
If a client doesnít want perfection, taking more time to perfect every
single item delays the project and may even cause it to be abandoned because it
never gets done. Another problem is
the effect that perfectionism has on the team: if you focus only on what is
wrong, you risk de-energizing other people.
People can lose interest, and then you end up having to do it all
yourself. We suggest a more pragmatic approach. Establish
a point at which the work is acceptable, and look at what you were trying to
accomplish in the first place. Perfect
the things that need perfecting, and ease off on the rest.
Let's pull all of
this together. When you get up in the morning, you know that there is going
to be conflict today. You have a
choice; you can be constructive or defensive.
We all learned our defensive approaches years ago, and they actually work
at protecting us, which is why we often jump to them when we face conflict.
To have positive results,
however, there are better choices:
Let's look at the facts and figure
this thing out.
Here is what I am doing about it.
Builder: First, let's get to know
I know we can work this out.
We conclude our
workshop, Thriving on Conflict, with a graduation exercise. This exercise
provides an opportunity to try constructive conflict styles that may be a little
foreign to each person. Itís fun
to watch dominators play a supportive role to people who have been reluctant to
put forth ideas. We have seen
competitors accommodate others, and accommodators become just a bit more
competitive and speak up for themselves. The
point of the exercise is to practice new approaches so that in the real world
they become natural.
There is no magic
wand to prevent conflict, but we have four constructive approaches that work.
Remember, with constructive conflict, something good might come out of this.
Copyright © 2003
Bill Kuehn and Steve Wille
Note: The 12 conflict styles are drawn from LSI
Conflict(T), Copyright © 1990
Human Synergistics, Inc. Used with permission.