The latest edition of the Leading Effectively E-Newsletter from the Center for Creative Leadership arrived in my inbox today. I highly recommend it if you do not subscribe. The CCL provides a wide array of resources and tools to help you in your leadership development.
This month's E-newsletter contained an article that caught my attention. I have cited a portion of it here:
Clarity in Conflict: A Simple Formula
Conflict — any conflict — can be traced back to one of five root causes. And, without knowing what the conflict is really about, resolution is impossible.
"Whether a conflict is personal, business, social or geopolitical, it stems from different views of facts, methods, goals, values or behaviors," says CCL's Harold Scharlatt.
Behaviors. Conflict, of course, can be caused when one person behaves in a way that another person finds unacceptable. Often, generalized and ongoing conflict sets in around behaviors - people often call this a "personality conflict." For example, one of your direct reports has difficulty working with another. One is gregarious, quick to speak and very animated. The other is low-key, deliberate and reserved. They agree the conflict is just because they have such different personalities.
"It isn't helpful to focus on personality in a conflict situation," says Scharlatt. "Instead, hone in on specific behaviors: "He interrupts me in meetings." "She takes too long to make a decision." "He is so loud on the phone." "She doesn't share information I need."
You won't be able to change personalities, but people in conflict can agree to change behaviors or take specific actions.
Facts. The simplest cause of conflict is a difference over facts. Information can be gathered or clarified so that people can agree based on the facts. Of course, in many situations the facts people use for their arguments are debatable (which means the conflict is really about something else).
Methods. Conflict about methods is the next easiest to resolve. People may disagree on how to proceed, even if they agree on the facts and share the same goals. For instance, some in a department may prefer to keep using the current software system; others may argue that new software would be more efficient.
Goals. Without shared agreement about the purpose or outcome of the work among the people involved, conflict is inevitable. Bickering over behavior, facts or methods may mask a disagreement about the goal. Efforts can be made to communicate information, address concerns or persuade, but if the division remains too great, people will eventually leave the situation.
Values. Not surprisingly, differences over values are the most difficult to resolve. When conflict is over deeply held values, finding compromise or even acceptable next steps is a challenge. Agreeing to disagree is often an acceptable solution. If you do aim to shift values, understand that you are taking on a tough, if not impossible, task.
Once you have clarified the root cause or causes with the people involved, you can move ahead more productively. Scharlatt's suggestions:
- Clarify where you agree. Identify common ground or solutions that are easy for someone to take. This creates productive action and positive feeling before delving into the tougher disagreements.
- Take a problem-solving approach. Be future-focused and avoid blaming. Ask "what if" and open-ended questions as a way to generate possible solutions.
- Agree upon specific next steps. The conflict won't disappear, but with a step-by-step approach, improvement can be made.