3 Steps for Capitalizing on Conflict

We’ve all been there, in a meeting, discussing an item of great importance to the organization, everyone is in agreement as to the best course of action except Jim. What do you do now? The easiest thing to do for sure is to say, “Majority rules. Meeting adjourned.” But is that the best action to take? Maybe not.

I was working with a team recently that was looking for a way to improve the interactions between themselves and senior management during their monthly performance review meetings. A possible strategy had been outlined and discussed. The team then “voted” using a system called “Fist to Five”. Each person registered their vote by holding up from 0 to 5 fingers. Three, four or five fingers meant the person agreed with and could support the decision. Zero, one or two fingers meant the person disagreed with the direction to the point that they could not support it. One person on this team of 10 people held up two fingers. Everyone else held up three, four or five fingers. The ground rules this team established said that if anyone held up less than three fingers there would be additional discussion.

It was quickly approaching lunchtime, but the team stayed true to their commitment to each other and the team member holding up two fingers was asked to explain her concerns. Two or three other people then also expressed concern regarding the initial approach. A lively discussion ensued. The team was able to identify the root cause of the issues that arose during the performance review meetings and develop a strategy that was much stronger than the initial idea. The willingness of this one person to courageously step out and say, “I don’t think this will work and here’s why,” rather than taking the easier route of going along with the group, led to the team coming up with a new and better way of approaching the situation.

This is not an isolated situation. In my work with teams, I have seen the willingness of one person to challenge the status quo lead to new and better solutions, over and over again. And similarly I have seen even heated disagreements between two people result in improved solutions. Of course, I have also seen the stubborn unwillingness of one individual to support an idea or a disagreement between two team members derail a team and even an entire organization.

How do you harness the power of conflict to make the team and organization stronger rather than destroy it?

  • First, you must create an environment where team members are:
  • Invested in maintaining the relationship
  • Committed to finding win/win solutions
  • Willing to participate in open and honest dialogue and debate

Second, everyone must understand and appreciate the different lenses through which team members view the world. Assessments like Everything DiSC® or other personality or behavioral style assessments can be useful in helping team members move from judging different perspectives to valuing them.

Third, the team leader must have the skills to facilitate the problem solving process. This process involves:

  • Identifying areas of agreement
  • Delineating areas of disagreement
  • Detailing proposed alternatives
  • Listing the strengths and weaknesses of each alternative
  • Developing a new alternative that combines the strengths of the initial proposals
  • Gaining commitment to the new solution

Facilitating this problem solving process is a skill that can be easily learned but unfortunately is too infrequently a part of leadership effectiveness programs. You can download your free 10-Step Problem Solving/Conflict Resolution Guide here.

Full potential is not achieved in a serene environment. When productively managed, conflict leads to new and better ways of doing things. I encourage you to embrace – rather than ostracize – that one brave soul who is willing to stand-up and say I disagree, when it would be much easier to just go along. You just might end up with an even better solution as a result.