Changing Conflict from a Negative to a Positive
I constantly see traditional HR courses and training for Conflict Management. Some of which focus on how to create harmony among team members or how to avoid conflict all together. While the intentions of this type of training is coming from a good place, I fear we are missing the opportunity to coach people on how to engage in conflict constructively. The most successful teams are those that can openly discuss and challenge ideas, freely give and receive constructive feedback, and purge artificial harmony.
At Britt Land we talk a lot about our core values and how to be a highly effective team. For us, engaging in constructive conflict is at the foundation of this; right after building trust. We have found that taking an active role in constructive conflict has HUGE benefits. When it’s done right there will be open authentic communication and you know where people stand. It minimizes politics, you can make informed decisions, and it helps teams learn and grow. Our land agents are faced with conflict constantly when negotiating land agreements. They use these moments of conflict to dig deeper into issues, to find out the true route of a problem or stakeholder’s concern, and then together look for a win-win.
So if there are all of these proven benefits, why aren’t more teams embracing conflict?… Conflict is not easy. Changing the perception is a start, and then helping your team do it effectively is next. Here are some tips:
Focus on the positive outcomes: openness, being informed, learning new ideas. When teams engage in constructive conflict they need to do it with a goal of getting all the best ideas out, and have a vested interest in each other’s success.
Get comfortable with discomfort: conflict is usually not comfortable. Acknowledge that. Practice, role play, be vulnerable, become more comfortable.
Think about emotional regulation: what triggers a negative response for you, how to do you react when someone challenges you? Try to check your emotions at the door, or at least be aware that emotions are there.
Change the way you think about a difficult talk: what is the purpose of the conversation? Look at the talk as opportunity.
Start with trust: a team can’t get to having constructive conflict unless the trust foundation is already built. This can be the toughest part that takes time.