How you handle conflict at work determines your culture, productivity and overall business sustainability.
Conflict is part of human nature, and part of any company’s day-to-day work reality. Conflict between departments, among teams, between people is part of everyone’s daily experience. How companies and people deal with conflict at work is what separates good companies from great companies, good teams from mediocre teams and sustainable businesses from companies with a grim future.
Good conflict resolves into a common respect, agreement on a way forward, and a shortcut to lessen the chance of the same conflict arising again. Good conflict takes practice, will, and confidence.
Bad conflict often goes unaddressed, festering right below the surface, or even very out loud, and often results in a victor and at least one loser. Bad conflict is energy-draining, inefficient and a huge time and results-suck on any team. In my experience, bad conflict usually yields more conflict, which turns into a never-ending mess of inefficiency and waste.
Rubric Of Conflict Types
Amy Gallo, author of HBR’s Guide to Managing Conflict at Work is an easy-to-read-and-share-with-others guide on understanding the most common types of conflict and different options for addressing conflict in these different scenarios.
Gallo gives us a great tool to figure out where to start when we want to resolve an issue between people or teams, as she articulates the difference between personal, task, process and status conflicts, and provides a very useful rubric to use so “you can take that quagmire of feeling and take apart what’s happening and dissect the conflict so you have a starting point” from which to work and resolve the issue. It’s a great read, and I highly recommend you read and share with your team so you can all apply the rubric to everyone’s benefit. You can listen to her interview with Sarah Green Carmichael on HBR’s Ideacast here.
As I was coming up in my career I, like so many other women, were scolded about our feelings: “Feelings don’t belong in the workplace,” “Take your feelings and go home,” and “Are you going to cry? Really? You’re going to cry?” are just some of the things I’ve heard in my career. A simple Google search reveals a plethora of articles that perpetuate this sentiment, including this one on how women can regain their composure
However, I believe that it is in the useful application of your feelings that you can learn to address conflict for a positive resolution. If we try to ignore our feelings in our communication we shortcut the issues and they repeat over and over again. We also end of wasting lots and lots of time. Inefficiency comes from two things: communication misses and the feelings that those misses cause. How often have we seen ourselves or our colleagues just grind away at an issue that seems to escalate with every iteration? What a time and energy suck.
When we acknowledge are feelings and pick apart why we feel the way we do, we can deal with them and put them in perspective and work to resolve a conflict productively and straightforwardly.
Circle of Communication
In my book I share a tool that we have found super useful in the office (and in my home) that I learned from my executive coach Lori Ogden Moore. She developed this based on work at Georgetown University, and we further adapted it at Double Forte. The Communication Circle or “Conflict Communication Wheel” is a simple process
that helps break down the parts of conflict to get to a productive collaborative agreement about how to proceed. It takes practice, but is well worth the time to prepare before you meet with the other side of the situation.
In the conversation it’s important to start with Step 1: Start with Facts. The best place to start any conflict conversation is with a fact; facts are not open to interpretation and by definition can be agreed upon. For example: “The fact is that you missed the deadline.”
Step 2: Share your Assessment of the facts. If you’re particularly mad, your assessment might be “My assessment is that you didn’t care about this assignment and you ignored it.”
Step 3: Your feelings. “I feel pissed that you left the team hanging and we had to stay late to make up for the fact that you didn’t pull your weight.” (While in the conversation it’s important to start with the facts, when I am working it out, I often start with the feelings and go backwards – and more often than not I come up with different assessments in the process. Your feelings are driven by your assessment.)
Step 4: Make a Request that will help prevent this situation from occurring again. “My request is that you let me know a day before the next document is due where you are in the project and whether you will make the deadline or not.”
Step 5: Make an Offer to help the other person be successful: “My offer to you is to help you prioritize your work so that you don’t miss any deadlines.”
More often than not you will find your assessment was off. Instead of I “didn’t care about the assignment” you might get “I didn’t know about the assignment” or “I started it too late and I was embarrassed to tell you,” etc. This response to the assessment can dramatically alter your feelings, from anger to frustration or to empathy.
By walking through these five steps and using Amy Gallo’s guide anyone can address an issue that is impacting team performance. Every team is going to have conflict. Good teams resolve conflict quickly and move on productively and efficiently.