Leadership Beliefs: Managing Conflicts In Teams

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Ethan Lin is the founder of www.leadershipgeeks.com and www.personality-central.com. He has a passion to empower and develop people. Professionally, he is a corporate trainer focusing on sales training, leadership development and team building with his company Personality Central.

Conflict and problems on workplace: discussing boss and trainee.
Conflicts are inevitable.

Most people want harmony, so it conflict sounds terrible and agreement sounds good. After all, who likes to see quarrels and arguments going on between people? It always leaves a bitter taste in our mouth.

But occasional open conflict is useful for teams. You have to see that. These conflicts can build mutual understanding and bring together closer working relationships. I’m sure you have had that quarrel with your significant other before – what was the result? You probably built a stronger bond with him/her.

So, the real question is not how you can avoid conflict in your teams. You can’t. The real challenge is, how can you manage conflict in a way that builds the team up in productivity and intimacy?

As a manager of people, your role in this is crucial. Whether the conflict becomes destructive and hurtful or constructive and useful is up to how you handle it.

Here are some important pointers:

Recognize Different Perspectives.

People work and communicate differently. They don’t think like you, and that’s a good thing. A leader needs multiple perspectives. There’s not just one way of looking at a situation – there’re many ways, and the same situation can yield entirely different reactions from various people.

As a leader, you have to recognize the different communication and working styles of people. There’s not just one way of looking at a situation, but multiple ways. One circumstance can yield tremendously different reactions and thereby different viewpoints.

This picture of the blind men and the elephant is a great illustration of this:

(Cartoon originally copyrighted by the authors; G. Renee Guzlas, artist)

(Cartoon originally copyrighted by the authors; G. Renee Guzlas, artist)

Who’s right? Everyone thinks they are. The guy who says the elephant is a tree trunk thinks he’s fully right. He cannot comprehend why another person may say the elephant is like a snake. Everyone thinks their perspective is the right one, but in truth they all see in part. In a conflict situation, everyone is like the blind men – they see a perspective, and they think it’s the ‘right’ one.

For example, you hire a new staff to take over existing responsibilities of a senior staff. You do so because you feel the senior staff is being overworked and needs someone else to lighten her load. You had the best of intentions, but you found this staff to be unappreciative.

In fact, you notice she is hostile toward the new colleague. Your first instinct is that your senior staff has lost it – that’s she’s a jealous and bitter person.

However, after some investigation, you realized that this staff feels threatened by the new colleague, thinking that you hired the new staff to take over her job.

Who’s right? You will be tempted to say that you’re right and attempt to explain your perspective to her. Your first thought is – she needs to understand. But as a leader, you must do what you can to understand her perspective too. You discover that a better action would be to have an open talk with her before you took any action.

Recognize Your Personal Bias.

Realize you have blind spots. What you see is not what another sees. In a conflict situation, you’re more likely to side with people that share your perspective. Don’t do that. Be objective and give each point its weight.

I find this to be the toughest to train out of leaders. It’s called a blind spot for a reason. Many leaders have achieved a certain level of success by using their preferred mode of thinking – they find it hard to embrace another’s viewpoint that they deem inferior.

It will take a lot of humility for any leader to accept that another point of view completely different from theirs.

Can you accept someone who disagrees with you? Can you embrace their viewpoint? If you can, then you can move on to the next step.

Find A Synergistic Solution.

The best solution considers multiple perspectives. You may not agree with that viewpoint, but at least try to see how the other position can add value to yours.

Together, your team will come up with holistic solutions. The question is, are you allowing this creative conflict to happen? Are you allowing disagreements to happen so that better solutions can emerge?

Good leaders know they are not know-it-alls. They know to surround themselves with people smarter than they are. And so they allow this creative conflict to happen – they don’t feel threatened if someone disagrees with them.

Facilitate, Don’t Judge.

Your role in a conflict is a moderator, not a dictator. You shouldn’t be imposing your viewpoints on people – that’s a sure way for people to harbor bitter and angry thoughts. Your role should be allowing each person to share their point of view. Accept each point of view as valid, and then find points of agreement between them.

With this information out in the open, now all the ‘blind men’ can have a more productive discussion on what the elephant looks like.

As a leader, in a conflict situation, your role is not a dictator, unless the circumstances truly require it to be. You are a facilitator. If there is a conflict, sit down and understand the different perspectives, facilitating the parties to open up and give their points of view. Then, offer a third-party view on how all are important and equally valid, and come up with a better solution for it.

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