Who's Got Your Back: Don't Fear Conflict (Part 5 of 5)

07/17/2009 05:12 am ET | Updated Nov 17, 2011

Don't fear conflict. It's part of the process. In virtually every group, conflict is integral to team cohesion. It forces groups to pause and reflect on the current situation, to bring everyone up to speed, and to try to improve upon the status quo. Researcher Dean Tjosvold contends in the Journal of Organizational Behavior that well-managed conflict helps us "probe problems, create innovative solutions, learn from experience, and enliven relationships."

2009-06-16-bookjacket.jpgWhen dealing with group conflict, remind everyone that Greenlight Groups celebrate conflict. I see conflict not as a battle, but as a tool for growth. Engage problems promptly, and work toward consensus. Remember that in Greenlight Groups, the goal is always collaboration, not compromise. Try to take away a lesson from every conflict, to reinforce the idea that conflicts are truly a good, not an evil. It's how you deal with conflict that matters.

When dealing with conflict one-on-one, approach the person with patience, humility, and respect. (This applies to group conflicts as well.) Remember, you owe every member of your group the benefit of the doubt. Keep in mind that none of us is blameless. Forgive your partner before you even begin to work through the details of your conflict. It gives him the space to recover, and to apologize. Taking ego out of the equation allows partners to be their best instead of their worst.

In his book Forum: The Secret Advantage of Successful Leaders, Mo Fathelbab offers some valuable guidelines for one-on-one conflict resolution, which I've summarized and expanded upon below:

1. Candor and transparency. Address the person you have a conflict with directly, not through a third party.

2. Trust your instincts. Address problems right away so they don't fester and blow up.

3. Choose the relationship you have with others. If you have an issue with a member of the group, it's your problem-at least until you bring it to the attention of that person.

4. De-heat the room (aka no drama). Avoid personal attacks. Focus on the behaviors that are troubling you. For example, say, "I'm bothered by how often you interrupt me," not "I dislike you." That keeps the conversation rooted in caring, not combat.

5. "I might suggest . . ." Avoid ultimatums that create a winner and a loser.

6. Facts are powerful. Don't just talk about your judgments and feelings. Make sure you clearly state the facts, and the change you are looking for.

7. Get a reality check. If there's a disagreement about what happened, bring in another member of the group to mediate.

8. Keep digging. If the problem is more than just a communication issue, try to push beyond the symptoms to the root causes. Are petty annoyances and nitpicky issues the signs of something deeper? For example, if someone is being overly negative and offending others, the core issue may be fear that the group hasn't truly accepted him.


This is the final part of an exclusive five-part series based on the instant #1 New York Times bestseller Who's Got Your Back: The Breakthrough Program to Build Deep, Trusting Relationships That Create Success--and Won't Let You Fail (Broadway Business) by Keith Ferrazzi.