Monday, February 6, 2012

Have A Nice Conflict

You are running a little late, and show up to the early morning project team meeting a few minutes after it started.  But already things have taken their usual course.  Tom is raising his voice and pressing for action on his latest proposal, Helen is telling Tom that he doesn't have enough information to move forward - more data is required.  Joe is leaning back in his chair looking uncomfortable, wishing the problem would just go away.  All three faces turn to you, the team leader, as you walk into the room.  Once again, your team is in conflict, and the day is just beginning.  Everything is normal.

Conflict is part of our daily lives.  Families experience conflict. Business and government organizations live in a sea of conflict.  International relations are fraught with conflict.  The news is filled with conflict.

The question that comes to mind is: if conflict is so prevalent in our lives, why aren't we better at dealing with it?  Perhaps one answer is that we are never given the proper tools.  As we grow up we learn how to get along, or how to take control of a situation.  We learn how to press our point, or to compete.  But, we may never be taught how to:
  • Anticipate conflict
  • Prevent conflict
  • Identify conflict
  • Manage conflict
  • Resolve conflict
The time has come to change all of that.  Being a better leader or manager, or just being a better person, starts with self awareness and self management.  These competencies are rooted in self knowledge - knowing yourself, what motivates you, what you value, and how you translate those motivations and values into behaviors.  As you extend your knowledge beyond yourself, you gain an understanding of others, and how their motivations and values drive their behaviors.  You also begin to gain an understanding of what causes conflict.  (See the footnote below for information on tools to help you gain deeper self and social awareness)
 [C]onflict [is] the feeling that occurs when another person or set of circumstances becomes an obstacle that inhibits one's ability to live out their motivational values.  (Have a Nice Conflict, p 95)  People go into conflict about things that are important to them - values that are tied to their sense of self-worth.  (Have a Nice Conflict, p. 130) 
If you want to deal with conflict, your challenge is to learn how to identify motivations and values in yourself and others, and how to communicate with the people involved in a conflict.  Then, the key is to use that knowledge to build a path back to self-worth for all parties. Luckily, you are not alone.  Help is on the way.

Tim Scudder, Michael Patterson, and Kent Mitchell have recently published a book titled Have a Nice Conflict that will, in a few hours, give you valuable insights into how to translate your self and social awareness into actions, behaviors, and language that will help you anticipate, prevent, identify, manage, and resolve conflict.  Their book is based on work done by Elias H. Porter, as well as decades of study, and experience using the Strengths Deployment Inventory, or SDI.

One of the things that Scudder, Patterson and Mitchell points out is that behavior in conflict follows patterns.  Although it is true that human beings are not 100% predictable, it is interesting to note that certain discernible patterns of behavior do exist.  Knowing that patterns exist, and having some tools to help you identify the patterns when you see them, gives you a huge head start on managing conflicts.

The authors have created a fable, or parable, that lets you follow the journey of "John" as he learns about these patterns of behavior within himself and those around him, both when things are going well, and when things go into conflict. 

As Have A Nice Conflict points out, one of the biggest challenges is to learn how to manage a conflict when you are already firmly entrenched in it. If we enter into conflict at a purely reactionary level, if we just follow our emotions, we tend to let the conflict manage us rather than managing the conflict.  But by managing ourselves, and learning how to communicate with each of the individuals involved in the conflict, we can be more effective when we find ourselves in the fray.  Also, conflicts become shorter, and are often avoided.
A well-chosen behavior on your part can prevent conflict with another person. But you need to prevent conflict in yourself... too.  (Have a Nice Conflict, p. 142)  Managing conflict is about creating the conditions that empower others to manage themselves out of their emotional state of conflict.  It's also about managing yourself out.  (Have a Nice Conflict, p. 162)
We all need to follow the advice of every airline flight attendant: place your own oxygen mask on first, then help the person next to you with theirs.  You need to gain control of yourself before you can be any help to the other parties to a conflict.  (See the earlier blog post The View From The Balcony)

Preventing conflict within yourself, and creating conditions that allow others to manage themselves requires conscious thought.  Conscious thought is much easier when you know what to listen for, what to look for, and how to respond to people who hold differing motivational values.

Have a Nice Conflict gives you some interesting insight into language and behaviors that you can use when you find yourself in a conflict with another person.  And, it shows you how to modify your language to fit the person, or people, in the conflict.

The first and best thing you can do is to dedicate some time to learning about yourself.  The footnote below gives links to some very valuable tools for gaining an understanding of what it means to be you.  Every tool has its supporters and critics.  There is no "single best tool".

Take a look at Have a Nice Conflict.  I think it will be well worth your time.  You will come away with some interesting insights into the people you live and work with.  You may also learn a thing or two about yourself in the process.

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Footnote:   

There are many tools that help you learn about yourself: Myers Briggs, Thomas Kllman, DiSC for example.  But the best tool I have found to increase both your self awareness, and your social awareness is the Strengths Deployment Inventory, or SDI.  The SDI is the one instrument that I have found that takes on the question of how to deal effectively with conflict.

I have a personal bias toward the SDI instrument, and have used it successfully both as a tool for gaining self-knowledge, and for creating a team environment of mutual understanding, better working relationships, and reducing conflicts.  Have a Nice Conflict and the SID go hand in hand with developing your self and social awareness.  The SDI will give you insight into why you and others behave in certain ways.  It creates a bond between team members, and establishes a common language about behavior that can be used within the team when things get a little tense.

The DiSC Instrument is also a great team-based tool for looking at styles and behaviors.  In my experience, the DiSC has been useful for helping teams identify attributes of the team members.  It becomes more powerful when used with the SDI to help the team members understand what to do when those attributes, or behaviors get in the way.

The Thomas Kilman Conflict Mode Instrument is great for helping you think through critical situations where conflict might exist, and selecting a behavior or strategy that may be appropriate.

And, finally, the Myers Briggs instrument is always a great tool for improving your self-knowledge.

Each of these tools should be done with the assistance of a coach. (See the previous blog entry Every Leader Needs A Coach)  To gain the full understanding of what the tools have to say, having a few hours with a qualified coach will be most valuable.