I recently started working with a new leadership team and I was interviewing each member to get a feel for the current conditions on the team. While they all spoke of how nice it was to work for this company and with this team, several of them said something to the effect that “we just haven’t been able to have a good fight yet.” I don’t think anyone was itching for a fight but they were longing for the tough debates about either controversial issues or issues where there seemed to be lack of alignment. Soon after that interview an interesting article popped up on LinkedIn written by Dr. Travis Bradberry, author of Emotional Intelligence 2.0. Dr. Bradberry starts his article with “When you’re a nice person, conflict can be a real challenge.” What really made me smile was his next line, “Not that mean people are any better at conflict, they just enjoy it more.” I like working with nice people but I really enjoy working with nice people who are really good at conflict.
Conflict is a needed ingredient
On high performance teams, conflict is a needed ingredient. I’m talking about conflict of ideas, experiences, assumptions, outlooks, beliefs, etc. It’s the richness of diversity of thought that is necessary for teams to become high performance teams. But diversity without well managed conflict will only lead to the splintering of teams into different camps.
Many of Dr. Bradberry’s suggestions are useful:
Consider the repercussions of silence
Often it just seems easier to be quiet and not bring up your objections or different point of view. However, not bringing them up is a decision in itself. You’ve just traded off the cost of dealing with it now vs the cost that will come with the ramifications down the road. The later costs are always higher than the present ones.
Don’t speak in absolutes
I’ve seen this one escalate arguments quickly. “You always” or “You Never” seem to trigger primal reactions in us that will lead to and grow a fight quicker than almost any other response.
Ask good questions until you get the heart of the matter
One of the books that recently went up on my reading list is “The Coaching Habit: Say Less, Ask More and Change the Way you Lead Forever”. Using good questions is the best way to lead and deal with conflict. Stay curious my friend.
Dr. Bradberry includes several other suggestions that you may want to dig into. But I’ll close this blog with a thought from Dr. Scott Peck in his book “The Road Less Traveled.” His belief is that at the root of mental illness is the avoidance of pain and suffering. You may avoid the pain and suffering in the moment but if you can’t have that good fight, it will lead to a highly dysfunctional team rather than a high performance team.