Conflicts can be healthy if it questions group thinking or ordained truths leading to discussions and consequently solutions
I’ve been writing this column since last August but have held back from defining what it stands for. Like the characters of my stories, I’ve let it decide what it wants to symbolize. As I look back, it seems to me that this column wants to represent the aspirations of individuals and organizations that want to set a pace of their own. This year we’ll together look at some enablers and derailers that can help us set that pace.
This month I want to explore “conflict”. We face conflicts both in personal and professional lives and those who have developed the ability to understand and resolve conflicts manage to remain more hassle free. Others get caught up in the vortex of conflicts and find most of their time engrossed in them rather than in value-adding activities.
Conflicts arise either on content i.e. related to an issue or on relations or interpersonal dynamics. They can be healthy if it questions group thinking or ordained truths leading to discussions and consequently solutions.
But very often the positive gets sidelined in a clash of egos, protection of turf and formation of sub-loyalties. In my experience, leaders who manage conflicts will show some of the behaviors below:
Check that ego: In a conflict, often the first thing to get hurt is one’s ego. Ego directs attention away from the issue to self and leads to a flurry of emotions, mostly hurt, anger and rage unleashing unsavory words. Words are like arrows. Once they are shot, they can’t be retracted. Leaders know that and keep their egos in check focusing on the issue.
Don’t assume, face facts: A leading cause and often the solution to conflicts is differentiating assumptions from facts. We played a game in office a few years back where in a group each person would narrate a scene and the others had to distinguish assumptions from facts. You would be surprised to know how often our experiences tend to lead us into believing things as facts but are actually assumptions. Quite often, all that is required to clear up the air is stating the assumptions.
Listen: Another thing leaders need to do well is listen. Listening not only involves hearing but also putting it in someone else’s context. Those who find themselves in conflict with others just hear and use one’s own assumptions to take actions leading to conflict. A simple practice to get out of this habit is when listening to someone else force yourself to justify their line of thinking. That way you’ll be able to develop a habit of thinking about the other person’s perspectives.
Apologize: It is rare to go through life without making mistakes. Those who are insecure about themselves tend to cover up their mistakes or blame external aspects for it. Secure leaders are typically the first to realize their mistakes and apologize for them; that often precludes or resolves conflicts.
Is it worth it?: Others also make mistakes, but don’t always apologize for it. Often we get into a conflict for the sake of the principle. But is it worth it? Would it lead to a positive change in behavior? Or contaminate the environment with negative energy, a disturbed mind for all involved and most importantly add no value to yours and others’ lives? It is best to sidestep conflicts that have no meaningful impact.
Build relations: Build credible relations with people and treat them with warmth and respect so that when conflicts arise they take on a beautiful tone. Where divergent views are expected and applauded for, where comments are not taken as personal jibes and most importantly where conflicts are interspersed with laughter and mirth, it becomes hard to distinguish whether the parties are agreeing or disagreeing.
Do share your own experiences around conflict and challenges you faced resolving them, and we could discuss various alternatives to work similar scenarios in the future.