Original Post by Alex Johnsen:
No one is going to get along and agree with everyone 100% of the time; conflict is inevitable. Dealing with conflict is what separates good leaders from the not-so-great. In fact, “The effective leader knows that conflict is an inevitable fact of human life, that no two people will see eye to eye on every issue all the time, and that what is needed is creative conflict, not destructive conflict” (Manning 2014, 311). I think in most cases it is usually unwise to bring a team conflict to the forefront of a team meeting so that everything is on the table. As a leader in this scenario, I would talk to each party individually to see what is bothering them and why it bothers them. Then, if needed, I would bring in all parties involved in the conflict to have a meeting, while leaving unnecessary personnel out of the meeting as they would likely be a distraction and not constructive to the solution. Based on the situation and conflict, I use one, or a combination of more than one, of the 5 approaches to managing conflict (avoidance, accommodation, domination, compromise, and collaboration) (Manning 2014, 312). The use of these approaches must be evaluated on a case-by-case basis and based upon the employee’s personality/social style and communication style. Certain grievances will require a dominant response whereas other issues might be better resolved through the use of compromise and collaboration (Manning 2014, 312-313). Regardless of the situation, it is always wise to have the conflict resolution discussion in a neutral setting, with a prepared statement or idea in mind of how to begin the discussion, and how to avoid unnecessary backlash. Planning is key for all these elements and again, it is important to listen to the individuals during the resolution process.
Manning, George. 2014. The Art of Leadership. New York: McGraw-Hill.
Great point that the purpose of bringing a team conflict to the forefront of your team meeting is not to reach a consensus. Rather, in his book, Patrick Lencioni emphasized through Kathryn that the purpose is to put everything out onto the table so that the team can improve trust and gain insight. The progress that the DecisionTech team made to achieve its goal could not have happened without conflict because a lot of the decisions were based on insights gained from group meetings. There were even times when she instigated creative conflict to unleash unspoken issues and generate group participation about them. The conflict was creative because it was so heavily goal-oriented which helped the group stay focused so that it did not become destructive. I noticed that Kathryn only had private conversations when there were signs that a single team member was contributing to destructive conflict.
What is one example of a case where avoidance would be the appropriate approach to use?
What are some strategies to respond to backlash in cases it is not avoidable?
Lencioni, Patrick. 2002. The Five Dysfunctions of a Team. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
Reply by Alex Johnsen:
Excellent points and thank you for your insight! The example you brought up is indeed a scenario where there were great benefits of collaborative conflict.
Avoidance should be used in situations where the issue is trivial (Manning 2014, 312). A real-life example I could give here was that a little while ago, some of my colleagues were arguing over which scoop to use for making coffee for the office. This is a situation that a leader can avoid and let their reports figure out on their own.
One strategy I would use to avoid backlash is to revisit the issue at a later time. For instance, if there was an issue on a Friday afternoon that wasn’t being resolved and emotions were starting to get the best of people, I might suggest saying something like, “Well, let’s not make a rash decision now. How about we all take some time to think about a solution and revisit this on Monday?” Obviously, this won’t work for every situation, but giving people time and space is usually one way to let cooler heads prevail, as they say.