Leadership, Total Rewards

Transforming Groups- 7 Ways to Harness the Energy of Conflict and Improve Communication

/ October 2, 2016

Risk versus opportunity, how do you view conflict?

According to a study commissioned by CPP Inc. — publishers of the Myers-Briggs Assessment and the Thomas-Kilmann Conflict Mode Instrument — U.S. employees spend 2.1 hours per week involved with conflict, which amounts to approximately $359 billion in paid hours (based on average hourly earnings of $17.95), or the equivalent of 385 million working days.  Regardless of these figures, the truth remains that when conflict is managed well, it can be both productive and inspiring.  Conflict in groups is a natural part of the experience and is unavoidable.  If not carefully handled, conflict can lead to heightened tensions and ineffective outcomes.  Struggles often result when group members interpret facts and information differently, ideas on end results don’t mesh, members do not align on methods of how something should be done, or individuals have different values, beliefs or attitudes based on life experiences.

“Harnessing the Energy of Conflict” is a program that has been developed and designed by Exude to support the conflict resolution process and leverage positive energy to create successful results.

Here is the 7 step process Exude created to assist managers and leaders in working through conflict within groups:

  1. Establish and agree to ground rules, such as:
  • The goal is to find a mutually acceptable solution.
  • You don’t have to be adversarial to get what you need.
  • It‘s okay to express feelings, including anger.
  • It’s okay to laugh.
  • It’s okay to stop and start over again.
  1. Define the conflict/problem in terms of needs.
  • This requires very careful communication on both the sending and receiving side.
  • Each party must have a full opportunity to define needs in terms that the other can understand–this takes time.
  • The key to solving conflict often comes when people recognize what they actually need, as distinct from what they would merely like.
  • The goal is to meet each party’s need, rather than to give one side its “way” on everything.
  1. Brainstorm for possible solutions to conflict. Show your openness to ideas by not evaluating immediately and being willing to throw out preconceived notions.
  1. Select the solution(s) that will meet both (all) parties’ needs and check possible consequences.
  1. Plan who will do what, where, and by when.
  1. Implement the plan
  1. Evaluate the process and the solution.

Overcoming a very common challenge of conflict in groups involves identifying and focusing on the problem, and getting parties to invest in a mutual effort to resolve the issue. The idea is to pit the people against “the problem” instead of each other.

Beyond conflict management, in order to survive and thrive in today’s fast paced, complex and changing world, team members need to build resilience, master the art of communication and set key commitments to serve as guidelines around teamwork, communication and trust. Effective communication can break down when members stop communicating directly with each other, and avoid discussing critical issues.

Adopting a “Fierce Conversation” model developed by Susan Scott can improve the way leaders and managers approach communication. Scott states, “A fierce conversation is direct, passionate, and real. It is one where we come out from behind ourselves into the conversation and make it real.” An outline of Scott’s process can be viewed here:

In the end, with the appropriate tools and resources, overcoming group effectiveness challenges of conflict and communication can be achieved. Creating an organizational culture to harness the energy of conflict and foster productive and positive communication is an important opportunity for managers and leaders alike.

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