I recently mentioned in an article that one of the most significant challenges leaders talk about, is being ‘time short’. The following week I had a number of conversations about other common challenges leaders are facing today. There was a resounding consensus on several of these, one of which is dealing with conflict, especially in a team setting.
In this post, which is the first in a two part series, I want to explore, how to deal with conflict and two ways to classify what type of conflict you are dealing with.
Then I will share ideas on how as a leader, you can handle conflict. In part two I cover more suggestions alongside how leaders can manage their own emotions when dealing with conflict.
Prevention Is Better Than Cure
Many leaders approach conflict with the, “I will handle it as and when it arises….” attitude, which is understandable though not a good idea!
The downside of this approach, however, is the person managing the conflict is uncertain and can lack confidence in how to handle the conflict scenario should it arise.
Here’s a question for you; does your company have ‘conflict management procedures’ that can be followed when a situation occurs? If yes, how aware and confident are you with your implementation of them?
If your answers are vague at best, there’s an action to add to your to-do list.
How Tension In Teams Can Arise
When a team is not pulling in the same direction, it is easy for tension to arise. If this is not addressed, it could lead to conflict as opinions and emotions escalate.
I make no apology for what I am also about to say, regular readers of the Zestfor blog will have heard this before.
It is vital your team share the same vision, values, and identity. It is critical to dedicate time for the team to discuss this crucial topic and how you all want to operate together as you move forward.
Take time in your regular meetings to revisit your vision, values and your team standards. It helps keep people both connected and grounded in where you are heading.
Types of Conflict
Surely conflict is conflict? Not exactly, there are distinctions. Mark Gerzon is a renowned mediation expert and has been the president of the American Mediators Foundation since 1986. He describes two distinct types he simply calls, Hot and Cold.
1. Hot Conflict
Is when one or more parties are highly emotional and doing one or more of the following:
- Speaking loudly or shouting
- Being physically aggressive
- Using language that is incendiary
- Appearing out of control and potentially explosive
2. Cold Conflict
Cold conflict is when one or more parties seem to be suppressing emotions, or appear “unemotional,”. This type of conflict is evident by behaviours such as:
- Muttering under their breath or
- Pursing their lips
- Being physically withdrawn or controlled
- Turning away or otherwise deflecting contact
- Remaining silent, appearing shut down
- Speaking in a passive-aggressive tone
How to Deal With Conflict
Decide on the type of conflict:
The starting point is to decide what kind of conflict you are dealing with based on the behaviours you are observing.
Gerzon suggests that conflict management works best when you have the right temperature. So, it makes sense that you would not bring two individuals showing ‘hot’ behaviours together without setting firm ground rules as it would be potentially a ‘highly charged situation’.
Instead, communicate a set of ground rules where specific questions are posed that allow individuals to express their concerns without personal attacks. The conversation needs to be firmly facilitated to ensure all the ground rules are adhered to.
However, bringing two people who are demonstrating ‘cold’ behaviours together can help to open a conversation and warm the temperature up. The challenge here is the reluctance to share how someone is feeling.
One approach that has been successfully used is to create a debate/dialogue with the wider group if they are avoiding tackling a severe issue. You can form several teams and hold a debate. This allows the difference to surface, and the group to acknowledge the conflict that is simmering underneath the surface.
A debate like this creates the foundation to discuss the conflict further. It still requires a skilled approach to facilitate this so that a resolution can be moved towards.
It is irrelevant that the conflict is hot or cold, remember the goal is about creating a bridge that leads towards a win-win solution and one where there are new and stronger ties between the parties who were in conflict and that there is a deepening level of trust.
In part two I discuss how a leader can manage their own emotions while dealing with such challenging situations.
Until next time,