When enough is enough: 3 ways to look at conflict with new eyes
The third time that participant shot down an idea, my client’s blood started to boil. She was chairing a committee meeting, trying to facilitate it while getting feedback on a key presentation developed for senior management. She had listened patiently… until now.
During our coaching session, my client exclaimed: “What a naysayer! Instead of offering ideas about what could be improved or done differently, this person constantly finds fault. She is smug and impossible to work with!”
This fateful third time, that participant blurted: “I don’t know about other people around the table, but this way of presenting the information really doesn’t work for me.”
My client’s response: “For goodness’ sake, can’t you find anything positive to say?!” The room grew silent. Participants exchanged awkward glances while my client considered her next move.
What is the next best move?
One person started to offer words to placate the offended party. Another reacted aggressively, suggesting that the person criticizing should be the one to update the presentation.
Some observed the ping pong match with fascination, while others couldn’t wait to leave the room.
My client was stumped. Frustrated, she asked people to send in their comments and brought the meeting to a close.
In our coaching session, she realized that she alternated between two main responses when conflict reared its head: Either gloss over it, or bristle with irritation. Great observation. We discussed the very human tendency we have to fall into a narrow range of reflex responses, mostly out of habit.
How a team leader can deal with conflict without losing her cool
My invitation to her, to you, and to myself is to start from the inside out.
- Expect conflict: Most teams go through phases of development, and conflict is inevitable. It’s part and parcel of human dynamics after all.
Acknowledge conflict to yourself, and even to the group. Conflict means people are engaged and need to air out their differences.
- It’s hard to remain neutral: Prepare yourself for the fact that you are not likely to remain neutral. Feelings will be triggered and buttons will be pressed; you may find yourself reacting before thinking it through.
Breathe deeply and take time out if you can. If you overreact, acknowledge your outburst first to yourself, and find ways to address root causes.
- Stretch your repertoire: Try a different response than the one that comes automatically. That reflex response is based on the past. The present needs a new approach.
Some stretch exercises to challenge old conflict responses
Here are a few stretch exercises to expand your response-to-conflict repertoire.
For moving from glossing over to engagement
- Ask questions when statements are unclear.
- Inquire about what is leading someone to a conclusion.
- Ask the team what’s needed to move forward.
For moving from confrontation to observation:
- Let the exchange happen between participants rather than intervening often.
- Offer neutral observations such as “I notice a few of you are suggesting another approach. What are other views around the table?”
My client knows she will get triggered again. To be honest, when it comes to conflict we all will. With a wider range of responses at our disposal we can start shifting our own state of mind, and meeting dynamics, for the better.
What approach has helped you deal with conflict in a new way? I look forward to reading your comments.