I walked into a prospect meeting yesterday with 6 team members and the conflict was palpable. I could feel the issues and the dysfunction in the room. I said “I sense a great deal of conflict in this room. Is that true?” – One person immediately spoke up and said ‘Yes, we have conflict that is unresolved on this team.’
The next question I asked – “What is the impact on the business with the unresolved conflict?” For this executive team, they have had employee retention issues and increased stress. People are leaving because they see and experience the dysfunction.
How do you resolve & recognize conflict?
1.) Recognize the difference between task and relational conflict. Task conflict occurs with unclear roles and responsibilities. Additionally, a lack of process can be an indicator or a reason that the conflict exists. Relational conflict emerges when opposing viewpoints become unresolved.
2.) Conflict is not bad unless left unresolved. Then it becomes scary for fear of what one might lose in the process. There are also the obvious lost productivity costs because now our minds are not focused on the present work.
3.) Tension is different than conflict. Tension may be a feeling of fear or anxiety from groups that have a history of distrust. Conflict emerges when the tension becomes voiced, acted on or instigated. Tension is often below the surface whereas conflict emerges when opposing ideas begin to clash.
4.) Understand and own your part in the conflict. It is easy to blame the other or the situation. You have a contribution. What is your contribution? This is where humility comes into play. A humble leader always recognizes their contribution and takes that feedback toward a path of improvement.
5.) Your brain on conflict is spinning. Your brain is designed to keep you safe. There is a good chance that you are running from the conflict to protect yourself. Resolving conflict can be uncomfortable and the brain will signal this discomfort. Just because you feel uncomfortable in resolving the conflict does not mean that you are doing something wrong.
For this team to move forward it will require courageously facing the truth. This will require addressing both the task and relational conflict with humility.