Let me ask you… Do you embrace conflict? Most people don’t. Conflict is bad, right? Especially in a workplace setting, it’s important to work together, collaborate, problem solve… isn’t conflict contrary to that?
In fact, conflict supports that! Let’s first explore what conflict actually is in a workplace setting:
Conflict is not anger, arguments and shouting matches.
Conflict is an incompatibility between behaviour and objective.
Avoiding conflict avoids goals!
When seen this way, it’s obvious that conflict, at the very least, shouldn’t be avoided. When behaviour is not aligned with objectives, it creates bottlenecks that take you further away from what you want to accomplish.
So, if avoiding conflict isn’t the answer, how about embracing it?
Conflict = growth
What’s an incompatible behaviour? A few examples are when someone:
- Never speaks up in meetings, but complains later about the outcome;
- Consistently takes too long to answer emails or calls;
- Argues with colleagues, but rarely offers solutions;
- Delivers late or incomplete work;
- Doesn’t follow through on promises;
- Has a general poor attitude that brings down the team;
- Says yes to everything, even though they’re overloaded;
- Struggles to prioritize, etc.
These are behaviours that hold you back. But they are also opportunities for growth, as long as we approach them with a mindset of growth, not one of judgement or blame. That’s what embracing conflict is all about. Embracing the opportunity to get better.
Excavate to embrace
Brene Brown said, “Brave leaders are never silent around hard things. Our job is to excavate the unsaid.”
The thing is, you don’t need to be in a leadership role to lead. When you act with courage and compassion, when you confront the difficult things with a mindset of growth, you set off a domino effect of positive change for everyone around you. Blazing the trail of embracing conflict is a powerful way to set off that change.
Embracing conflict means digging into the heart of the matter to identify what needs to be strengthened, grown or resolved. That excavation starts with uncovering what conversations truly need to be had. Ask yourself:
- “What conversations are we not having that could move us forward?”
- “What is the roadblock and what is its impact?”
- “What do I want out of this and what does that look like?”
- “What, about this, is important to me/the team/the organization?”
- “What will I do and when?”
Then turn your attention towards the other person. Excavate the unsaid by taking note of:
A topic comes up, a person enters the room, a comment is made and the energy… shifts. Something’s up. Take note of these energy shifts. What’s said or happening just before a shift? (Pay attention to positive shifts, too. You want more of those!)
- Body language
Does their body language match their words? Does it change around certain people or topics? Do they turn away? Avoid eye contact? Fidget or cross their arms? Do they look like they want to run away or sink into the floor? What’s going on in those moments?
Call it out with compassion
Energy and body language are like massive neon signs, pointing to the unsaid. Call it out! But with compassion. Remember the human. This is someone with strengths and talents that bring value to the organization, but also with an inner experience you may know nothing about.
Ask questions like:
“I notice you’re tapping your foot pretty fast. What’s going on?”
“I hear you say you agree, but your eyes are avoiding mine. What’s really going on?”
“I’ve noticed a pattern of saying things will be completed, but nothing changes. What’s going on?”
“I’ve noticed that whenever we talk about _____ you laugh it off. What’s going on?”
Get curious. Use phrases like “I am noticing” or “I have observed” to keep judgement at bay. Open questions like “What’s going on” give space to talk safely and openly.
Most importantly, take a co-creative approach. This is about working together to solve a problem. Judgement and blame only hold people back. They dig in their heels or retreat. Openness, compassion and a focus on progress takes people off the defensive and gives them opportunities to accept accountability for their part in the problem and their part in the solution.
Avoiding conflict doesn’t make it go away. Instead, the underlying issue becomes a roadblock that everyone has to navigate around. It slows things down, holds you back, shuts down possibilities.
When we embrace conflict, when we excavate the root cause, when we set judgement and blame aside to focus on the way forward, we open up those roadblocks and open up possibilities. Conflict is hard, but it’s also one of the greatest opportunities for growth.
Are you ready to embrace conflict? It starts with unleashing your inner leader so that you can show up with confidence and courage.
If you would like help discovering your own inner leader or transforming your team leadership, connect with me.