Tag Archives: Conflict Resolution

The One Way to Constructively Defuse an Argument

Constructive conflict is a healthy part of any organization. Deprived of it, we end up with a lack of innovation, status quos are not challenged, necessary questions are avoided, and there is a lethal amount of consensus. The key is how we address this conflict.

One way to face conflict is fast and furious. Like the multi-sequel movie franchise, we can follow Dom Toretto’s philosophy:

I live my life a quarter-mile at a time. Nothing else matters; not the mortgage; not the store; not my team and their bullshit. For those ten seconds or less, I’m free.

When we lead through a “quarter-mile at a time” mindset, we are likely to engage in such practical strategies as seeking compromise, utilizing empathy, avoiding blame, apologizing, and forgiving past actions. However, while these techniques can be effective, they do not work when we are in the midst of a heated argument where we feel emotionally invested. So how can we improve our ability to resolve our interpersonal conflicts?

According to a study in the Journal of Experimental Psychology, you are more likely to resolve conflict through superior reasoning strategies when you consider the situation in the long run. By distancing yourself from your current feelings, you are better equipped to unravel negative events and find resolution. Otherwise, according to another study, you are prone to ruminating, recounting, and re-experiencing the negative event indefinitely.

Still not convinced you are better off with a marathon (versus sprint) mentality? A study in Psychological Review found that imagining the future is a natural outlet to thinking more abstractly about an interpersonal conflict. Once we are able to transcend the present moment and put the negative events in context, we are less focused on recounting it and more focused on thinking about the bigger picture. And with enhanced adaptive reasoning strategies, the research reported that participants had a greater influx of positive emotions and insight.

To resolve conflicts, we need to think beyond a “quarter-mile at a time.” How will it pan out tomorrow, next week, and next year? It may not be as harrowing as a fast and furious solution, but the measure of successful leadership is not reliant on how quickly you reach the finish line.

Making Your Next Civil War More Civil: Captain America on Conflict Resolution Through Frontstabbing

civil war linkedinWhen I speak with employee relations professionals, they always say that 95% of workplace conflicts are based on a miscommunication. Once they’ve diagnosed this, the real challenge is in how a leader plans to fix it. This is usually the part of the article where I would suggest we try to be more like superheroes. Today, I’m recommending the opposite.

The trailers for Captain America: Civil War are packed with superheroes fighting superheroes. According to Joe Russo, director of the preceding Captain America movie, Civil War is:

…the story about family, and what happens if they don’t agree. We’ve been comparing it to a fight at a wedding. What happens when your cousin and your brother go at it, and whose side are you on?

Their conflict revolves around political and ethical ideology. Captain America believes superheroes should remain free to defend humanity without government interference, while Iron Man supports legislative oversight. The argument escalates into an all-out battle with other superheroes picking sides. Why did it have to get to this point? Granted, no one wants to watch a two hour movie of superheroes participating in intense mediation, but isn’t there a more constructive way to resolve their conflicts?

Thankfully, there are a number of ways we can address disagreements without having to resort to fisticuffs. One of the most effective (and least violent) is to foster a culture of frontstabbing. Unlike its deceptive ‘stabbing in the back’ adversary, frontstabbing involves saying the uncomfortable comments directly to that person. If conflicts are primarily based upon a misunderstanding, this is the quickest way to clear up that misunderstanding and avoid escalation.

In Susan Scott’s book Fierce Conversations: Achieving Success at Work and in Life One Conversation at a Time, she discusses her experiences coaching CEOs to be more candid with those on their team. As discussed by Stacey Engle, Executive Vice President of Marketing for Scott’s company,

[Scott’s research] found that a lot of people needed coaching on how to be authentic in a conversation… It’s a human characteristic to be scared to talk about the truth. But people want the truth.

Inauthentic communication leads to people being too “nice” or “polite.” Necessary conflict is dismissed or minimized to the point where everyone is saying the politically correct thing, while resentment builds. This suppressed frustration is then released in outbursts that are often unplanned and counterproductive. Frontstabbing, on the other hand, offers a way to say what you think in a respectful, clear tone. Since anger is not suppressed, actions and behaviors are more controlled with less flare-ups.

Creating an environment of frontstabbing can be a challenge. To institute this organizational change consider the following:

  • Frontstabbing is not synonymous with brutal honesty. Since the goal is to help, not harm, shoot for respectful honest.
  • Think before you speak. Have a plan before the conversation begins, including your intentions and the end-goal.
  • Be open to feedback. If everyone is practicing frontstabbing, you will get some pushback…and you may find that you are in the wrong.
  • Don’t be a psychologist. You need to describe behaviors and actions, not analyze why people do what they do.
  • Remain calm. Some will test your patience, so you may need to remind yourself that the objective is to find a workable resolution.

Instead of relying on weaponry, make the effort to resolve conflicts through peaceful perseverance. Some conflicts will end in a compromise, other times someone will lose. Either way, straightforward communication should result in mutual understanding and a solution, not a battlefield of superheroes who are unable to articulate a clear argument.

Weekender: David Wain on Delivering Negative Feedback and What To Do With It

david wainWelcome to another edition of leadersayswhat’s the Weekender, a microbe of thought to start your weekend on the right track. Why just a microbe (versus the entire organism)? Because it’s the weekend!

In this era when leadership is expected to build people up, its common for leaders to mistake candid communication with being “mean.” As a result, those who choose to follow us do not receive the constructive feedback needed to improve performance. They falter leaderlessly through laborious tasks while left wondering where they stand.

On the Nerdist podcast, David Wain, co-creator and director of the movie/Netflix series Wet Hot American Summer, discussed his preferred method of receiving bad news.

Anytime any executive or agents or anybody speaks in normal truth it is rare and welcome.

It seems that David has experienced much of the same confusing communications that employees complain about. Many of his “managers” (i.e. movie studios) don’t call or accept calls after a movie tanks in the box office, avoid unpleasant conversations, and expect people to “get the hint” when they’ve tripped up.

On the occasions when David has received this feedback, he goes on to explain how he uses it:

You say, ‘Okay, moving on.’ What else are you going to do? One of my most incredible experiences in my whole career is when I got shafted so hard in such a harsh way for this job I thought I was going to get… When you have a rejection like that it makes you reaffirm your commitment to what you do.

Be the leader that speaks in normal truth. Your critique does not need to be harsh to get your point across, but it does need to be definitive and clear. Avoid making it sound better than it is and “close the loop” so no unanswered questions are looming. If done well, you can help others reaffirm their commitment. They’ll take the rejection as a helpful step in their development and move onto the next challenge.

Larry David and the Four-Step Compromise Plan

larry davd lWhen faced with opposing ideas, it often falls on the leader to find common ground. The key is to resolve the conflict in a way where everyone comes out a winner. Do both parties get everything they want? Probably not, but the art of compromise is that both parties get something they want. The challenge is getting there.

Compromise too often earns a negative connotation. Those who criticize compromise associate it with capitulating ideals or surrendering otherwise high standards. Instead of a possible win/win that could produce a better outcome, they view it as a lose/lose where both solutions are watered down for the lowest common denominator. One person who feels this way is Larry David.

When preparing for his Broadway debut, Larry spoke to NPR about being true to his vision.

I don’t think that my hand would’ve cooperated with my brain if my brain was telling my hand to write something it didn’t really want to write. I remember when there was some interference from NBC with Seinfeld when we first started doing it, and fortunately I didn’t have a family at the time, so it was very easy for me to say to them, ‘No, I’m quitting. I’m not going to do that. I don’t want to do that and I can’t do it.’ And for me, it wasn’t a big deal to just pack up and go home.

That’s the first piece of advice I’ll give anybody who wants to get into this: Don’t have a family for a while, until you’re successful, because it will just make it very hard to ever get out of things and you’ll always have to compromise. But I didn’t have to compromise because I didn’t have a family.

Larry is known for these bold statements. He will quit before being forced to make a change. That’s the prerogative of an artist who has the flexibility to pack it up at a moment’s notice. Leaders, however, must serve a different purpose.

Organizations thrive on differences of opinion. If everyone who doesn’t get their way simply quits, the organization is bound to crumble. Leaders are the glue to bring the differences together and find compromises that both parties can live with. To coordinate this endeavor, there are four steps to guide your efforts.

  1. Start with realistic expectations. The process is only effective if everyone is willing to participate through a give and take. Make sure everyone understands how compromise works and consents to keep an open mind.
  2. Communicate needs and wants. Both parties get a chance to make their case. Set a time limit and don’t allow interruptions.
  3. Q&A. Once initial proposals have been presented, both sides can dig deeper into the other’s proposal. They can ask questions, “constructively” debate details, and get a fuller understanding of how the opposing plan would work. Ensure that this remains a discussion, not an argument.
  4. Make a decision. As the leader, you have the final say. Weigh the pros and cons of both sides. What aspects of each are most valuable? Will the resolution be perceived at fair? How will you communicate it? Whatever you decide, own it. Your buy-in and ability to defend your decision will determine success.

If you are developing a television show and have nothing to lose, the “Larry David School of Conflict Resolution” is for you. However, if you are trying to generate the best possible idea that will aid your organization, consider a more leader-esque solution. Help your team find compromises that don’t compromise their integrity. Make them part of the process so they can be proud of the outcome. And try to decrease the “curb” in their “enthusiasm.”