This happens too often. It is a good company, with competent people, and a worthy project. However, the project is failing and nobody wants to speak up. There is actually a total lack of conflict. Itís almost like a big group hug. When we look beneath the surface we see burning issues but people are afraid to address them. How do we get vital issues out on the table quickly? How do we separate the good ideas from bad ideas without demoralizing people?
Conflict is necessary for project success, but there are two kinds of conflict, constructive and destructive. Constructive conflict brings out the best in people. Emotions are taken out and the facts speak for themselves. We are interested in what works instead of who is at fault. At the same time we are interested in people and what they want.
The Conflict Ladder
Picture a ladder with six rungs. At the bottom is failure. It means giving up or quitting. One step up is avoidance. Take a break; focus on something else, anything else. The next step is conflict resolution. Defuse the situation with a phrase like, ďIím sorry you feel that way.Ē A lot of people would be happy to leave it there but that wonít help get the job done. These three rungs are defensive and can help us through a difficult situation.
The top three rungs are constructive. The first of these is open communication. Everything gets discussed in an honest and non-threatening way. Now we need to do something with issues that have been raised. We call this rung creativity. We look for a way to combine ideas and produce something new. At the top of the ladder is thriving on conflict. As a team we can almost read each otherís minds and our work flows naturally.
How do we apply this?
Start by locating where you are on the ladder. If you are on the lower portion donít be discouraged. Ladders are climbed one step at a time. Move up to the next step rather than complaining that you are not at the top. If you are at the top, enjoy it and make the most of it while you can. Throughout a project you will find yourself moving up and down the ladder. The value of the ladder is you know where you are and can take action to make things better.
Going to the next step
Individuals on the team need to learn how they act in conflict situations and how to become more constructive. When we work with project teams we structure conflict in a safe environment where everyone learns to recognize where they are on the ladder and how to climb it. With this knowledge and skill conflict is no longer a negative situation which must be avoided.
In the Tough Teams workshop, Thriving on Conflict, we focus on multiple ways to handle conflict situations. Bill Kuehn and Steve Wille are senior facilitators.
Copyright © 2007, Bill Kuehn and Steve Wille