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Welcome back to the NEGOTIATEx podcast! Today’s topic is conflict transformation. Nolan and Aram are discussing how you can address friction productively. Believe it or not, sometimes it leads to good things.
Conflict is almost ever-present. It shows up in the workplace, in sales, in government… seemingly anywhere there are human beings present.
Nobody likes it. Regardless, negotiators, especially, have to expect it.
For a long time, the go-to was conflict resolution. However, in an interview with Dr. Brené Brown for her book, “Braving the Wilderness,” Dr. Michelle L. Buck advocates something else.
Instead, Dr. Buck recommends conflict transformation. The problem with conflict resolution, she says, is that it may suggest rehashing old ground. Worse still, it can convey a connotation that one side is a winner and the other a loser.
On the other hand, transformation focuses on creating a deeper understanding. It involves perspective-taking. As a result, a connection is established between the parties. This happens even if no agreement is reached.
NEGOTIATEx favors this approach (and advocates Dr. Brown’s book), too. Conflict at the conference table should always be framed rather than confronted hastily.
Don’t assume friction is a personal report card, either. It doesn’t necessarily mean something is broken or wrong with you and your organization.
Consciously re-frame the situation before reacting. Remember that while conflict isn’t ideal, it can be beneficial, at times. For instance, it can indicate opportunities to learn and grow.
Think of it as making the best of an uncomfortable situation. At the same time, resist the temptation to overlook or ignore conflict.
Unaddressed issues can taint future interactions like noxious fumes. In fact, they can hasten a misconception of things as a win-or-lose scenario.
Think before you speak, but make sure to address conflicts. Be intentional about finding ways to learn from them.
It may help to review psychologist Bruce W. Tuckman’s theoretical model. Tuckman describes 4 stages of conflict resolution: Forming, Storming, Norming, and Performing.
All teams initially unite (or try to), Forming.
Next comes the actual conflict, AKA the Storming. Embrace the early phases of this. Granted, they’re no fun, but quickly skipping through them is a mistake.
Believe it or not, most teams will fare better in the long run if some storming was allowed. Certain personality types may only commit more deeply after they’ve had a chance to vent.
That requires the presence of a leader capable of conflict transformation.
As you find ways to work together, the Norming begins. It may not happen instantly, but it is usually doable. Be patient.
Finally, when it’s go time, the Performing phase arrives. There’s probably no less conflict than before. However, the nature of the conflict may have been shifted toward tasks or the process.
Hopefully, you have developed methods for dealing with the conflict(s). Having invested in relationships, you should have something to draw on. As a leader, this is the point you want to get a team to.
However, try to build a culture in which constructive disagreement is allowed. If you never, ever get any push-back, you may not have 100% buy-in from your team.
Nolan and Aram share more on conflict transformation in today’s NEGOTIATEx podcast. Questions and episode suggestions to email@example.com are always welcome. Don’t forget to drop by negotiatex.com for more information on today’s topic and our negotiation prep tool, either.
Your time’s important to us. Thanks for listening!
Nolan Martin : Welcome to the NEGOTIATEx podcast. I am your co-host on Nolan Martin. Excuse me. And with me today is the master of conflict resolution, Aram Donigian. And Aram, how are you doing?
Aram Donigian : I thought you were just going to say the master of conflict, which many, many of my friends would probably agree with. I'm not sure about conflict resolution. I'm not sure I even like that title, but, um, since we're talking about conflict today, uh, it's, it's probably as good a title as any, so I'm doing… I am doing well, how are you doing? I'm sure you have never had any conflict in your life.
NM : Nope. Uh, I don't have any kids, so I think that's, I think that's why. But, uh, so we are excited to be talking about conflict...
AD : You know, they say kids and conflict both begin with K.
NM : [Laughs] Yeah.
AD : That's just a joke. That's a joke for our army friends, you know, uh, we can't spell or count.
NM : That's a Marine joke.
AD : Marine? Oh, we're gonna, we're gonna hear back on that one.
NM : [Laughs] All right. So today we're talking about conflict resolution, conflict management, and just really just conflict in the workplace. And so first just kind of wanted to pose this question to you Aram is, in your negotiating experience, how often do you have to deal or overcome with conflict in the workplace as a part of the negotiation or anything like that?
AD : I'd say it shows up almost daily, really, almost daily. And I think it's all around us. It's in how we design products, it’s in how we think about price. It's how we approach policy concerns when we're making plans. If I'm going to stay on my, my little box here with, uh, with P’s, I'd probably add personalities are always coming in and as another source of conflict, it shows up all the time. And the challenge is that none of us, no matter how experienced we are, love it. There's just an, a universal, fairly, you know, fairly universal high level of discomfort with, with these sources of conflict.
NM : Yeah. And I think as we'll get to here in a minute, but addressing the conflict is, is going to be crucial, especially if you're a leader and facilitating that environment, but kind of don't want to jump too far ahead as to where we're going. I know we wanted to highlight kind of the types of conflict. So what are the types of conflict that we see in the business?
AD : Yeah, so the conflict comes in some different forms. It could be relationship conflict goes back to that idea of personality, just different values, likes and dislikes. In fact, research shows that about 40% of workplace conflict is tied up in relationship sources, there's tasks, conflicts, which can be a disagreement about tasks that are important to get done, the ideas that people bring, or even, you know, kind of analysis around plans and problems and solutions. And then there's process conflict, which is just disagreement on how we address issues and how we're going to go about working together. And so all these things are rooted in differences, around goals, view of time, resource availability, what our direction and purpose is, and even our physical proximity to each other.
NM : Yeah, I think you could ask my, ask my wife, but definitely proximity to her with me for long periods of time is going to end up in some sort of conflict. But, uh, all joking aside, I do want to highlight here the quote kind of, we have from Dr. Michelle Buck, and she really talks about the difference between what most people say is conflict resolution versus conflict transformation. So I'm gonna read this quote and then get your thoughts on if that works for you. Sure. All right. So “Conflict resolution suggests going back to a previous state of affairs and has a connotation that there may be a winner or loser. In contrast, I focus on conflict transformation suggesting that by creatively navigating the conversational landscape of differences and disagreements, we have the opportunity to create something new at a minimum. We learn more about each other than before. Ideally we may find new possibilities that had not even been considered before. Conflict transformation is about creating a deeper understanding. It requires perspective taking. As a result, it enables greater connection whether or not there is agreement.” And again, it's from Dr. Michelle Buck, Kellogg School of Management in an interview with Bernay Brown, with Braving the Wilderness. So want to get your thoughts on that? And, um, you know, do you see, do you, are you aligned with Dr. Buck?
AD : Oh, absolutely. I think it's a brilliant statement and a, and it fits in well, by the way, with Dr. Brown's book, Braving the Wilderness, which I think is a must read by everyone. And so much of this Nolan is in the framing of conflict, is conflict the signal that something is broken and wrong with us or me or organization, or is conflict indicative of an opportunity to learn, grow. And that's just a natural, uh, thing in, in, in growth in process and development, and it should be embraced as this wonderful opportunity and that framing is critical. And so to me, that's the difference between, is this something we're trying to resolve or fix, or is this something that's going to, we're going to utilize to transform us?
NM : Yeah, I think, you know, we were, we were talking about the spectrum of resolving conflict and as we let conflict continue to kind of build and we don't address it, it ends up becoming, you know, going to a point that really you're in a win, lose situation. So wanted to generally explain that spectrum if, if you wanted it to go that way.
AD : Sure. Yeah. So, you know, what we're talking about is in his book, uh, the mediation process by Chris Moore, Chris Moore lays out this nice kind of spectrum of, you know, starts on one end with resolution versus another end where we go up to, you know, some of this violent sort of outbreak when conflict is dealt with and how it's dealt with. And there's, you know, it's, it's fairly wide. And I think that the tendency that most people have is to go to extremes that either tend to avoid the conflict altogether, which means it never gets dealt with it's like poisonous fumes that you've tried to bury or something. Um, it never tends to really work or people go to the, the so uncomfortable trying to handle it. There's some sort of violent outbursts. And because of those two tendencies conflict often doesn't get addressed and transformed as Dr. Beck would say in a way that's, that's helpful. And so we need to find helpful ways to, to use that conflict. And that's what you and I would say is going to come through some of those problem solving approaches that include things like negotiation and mediation.
NM : I think as a leader, there are different ways that you want to address conflict. Um, so do you want to quickly kind of go over the Tuckman model?
AD : I think that's a huge decision as a leader. So just because someone is a leader in their organization, whatever that organization is doesn't mean they have this, like all of a sudden they're immune to the, the stress of managing conflict more effectively. I mean, they're human. And so they have just as much of a kind of, you know, discomfort with it as anyone else. So I think the leader has to say, regardless of my own comfort level, I am going to address this and I am going to manage it in a productive way. I'm going to be really intentional. So I think that's a mindset for a leader to really consider as you get put in that position. So the Tuckman model Tuckman's model that you refer to is the idea. And many of us have heard this around team development, right? So the idea of you form as a team, you go through some storming around some of the sources of conflict. There, usually some tension there. From there you move into... we start to normalize, we start to develop SOP waste. We start to deal with some of that. And then we get into the perform phase, which is when we're really executing. Now in that perform phase, there's no less conflict than there was earlier on. Although maybe the nature of the conflict has shifted a little bit and it's more around maybe task or process, but we have methods for dealing with it. And we have an investment in the relationship. So we have something to draw on and that's where as a leader, I want to get my team to, which means I'll be quiet and kind of let you respond here, but it means we need to embrace the early phases of storming and not quickly skip through it. Teams, organizations, I would even say that in business relationships, they will do better in the long run when some storming has, has been allowed in teams effectively, are guided through that by a leader who can, you know, effectively transform conflict.
NM : Yeah. I think, you know, through the, through both of our military careers, this has been, you know, an instrumental process. The army encourages it through the after action review, but I would say backing up is as a leader, when you first come into that new role or you realize that you need to, you know, encourage us in the work place, it's definitely important that you build a culture where not everyone is in agreement at all times. Like if everyone is agreeing with me, then I know we have issues because I know that I am not the smartest person in the room. So I rely on some pushback. And I think you're going to get a better solution by creating that environment and encouraging that pushback. What do you think?
AD : Oh, I agree. And it requires two things. It requires some vulnerability on the leader to be wrong, which is a real hard thing for leaders to get over. Right. I got to get over myself and the potential that I am wrong and I don't have all the information. And I am incapable of making the perfect decision that I need to hear from others. So there's some vulnerability there. I'm going to show my underbelly a little bit. And that is really difficult regardless of your industry, regardless of your business. The second thing is that the people around me, who I am inviting into that conversation that you just described have to feel safe to do that. That if they are going to criticize, if they are going to push back that they are not going to be threatened somehow, and that it is completely safe and acceptable. So what you're talking about with developing a culture around that is critical, and it doesn't happen just automatically. It's something that a leader has to really do with tremendous discipline.
NM : I think that leaders need to look at instituting the after action review or just this process of getting feedback. Yeah. It is a continuous process. It isn't like, okay, at the end of the year, we're going to sit down and review. I mean, that's a great thing with that lens, that perspective, but really, you know, regularly, you should be checking in with your employees, with your coworkers. You know, how effective is this meeting? Like if we're going to have a meeting every Tuesday and Thursday, what do you need to have it be even more beneficial for the greater organization? So, you know, bringing this up at all times, facilitating this environment is, is crucial to address this conflict.
AD : And you know, some of the, and I, I I'm, I'm, you, you, your discussion around just normal day-to-day processes that we know do lead to conflict when they're not managed well. Right. So even having those conversations on the day to day thing, some of the things we teach about, about thinking through these with some of the kind of negotiation skills really appropriate, right? So, you know, who needs to be at which meetings and in what sort of capacity and are they, are they listening? Are they contributing now in the world of the pandemic, in which we're living through? Boy, we've realized that sometimes these meetings can be 15 minute phone calls. Sometimes it's more effective just to allow people to get on zoom versus trying to bring everybody in person. And, and so even the modality by which we have these meetings and what can occur by way of text or email, because it's really just about delivering information. So do we need to actually bring people in, right? So some flexibility. So all these sorts of things to me speak about intentional thought around how we manage people and process and space and time. And so to me, that goes back to what you were saying about culture and just being really intentional in our development of that, uh, within our organizations.
NM : Yeah. I think the, the last question that I kind of had on this topic, and that's a employee brings up some conflict to you and has an idea of how to resolve it. Now, as you, as the leader, how do you come to some sort of agreement, solution, outcome, anything like that? Like what, what goes through your mind as you get that, that pushback? Um, from, from someone
AD : I always go back to maybe a little bit of kind of risk reward calculation. So I'm thinking about because we're not living in, we don't live in a world where there's an infinite amount of time, right. So we were trying to manage just limitation and time and is it based on when this is coming across my desk or this person's coming to me, do we have, do we have the time to address this? Is that appropriate to do so now? Where are we in the design process or execution phase or whatever it might be? And so I want to really consider that, and it may be one of those things where the concern is valid. So I certainly acknowledge it. I think it helps build that culture I want by acknowledging their concern. And I might say, and the timing is really lousy. I think there's tremendous validity to what you're saying. The truth is that the probability of the risk that you're raising is low, the magnitude of the risk that you're talking about, right. Your concern it's if it comes true, it's low. So, so we're going to move on, right. And thank you, and thank you very much for bringing this and let's do that again. And maybe we need to revise our processes. So we bring it up earlier next time. And if those things, if all those conditions are different, um, then you know, if the magnitude is really high, if the probability is high, well, maybe it doesn't matter that we're in the 11th hour on this project. And we really need to freeze everything in its tracks and say, we don't move forward till we get this addressed. So that's part of the calculations I would be doing.
NM : Yeah. And I think kind of, what's been crucial for me and the success that I had in my military career was just having that sounding board… whether that's your right-hand man, if that's your number two or just a mastermind, peers, anything like that, where you can kind of bounce off some of these ideas, if you don't know the immediate solution on which way you could go, just kind of get some other opinions to help you out. I don't want you to dwell on any, on any decision, but some decisions do require that, that second opinion there. So I encourage you to seek that out. Is there anything else you wanted to kind of cover on today's topic of conflict in the workplace?
AD : Well, you always say this is a podcast for actions. So let me give my, my final sort of thoughts on, on what we want our listeners to be able to go out and do. So, first of all, would be: lean into conflict. Choose to see conflict as beneficial, recognize that it can help us make better decisions, come to better agreements. And that's when it's managed. Well, when we use the term with Dr. Buck introduced was when it's transformed. Next, use conflict as an opportunity to build better understanding of others around their feelings, their values, their identities, their concerns. It's an opportunity for us to learn through better communication. And that's true. It's going to be hard to transform conflict without some highly effective communication. So that means both good inquiry, humble acknowledgement, as well as strong advocacy. And then finally, you know, conflict is a necessary building block to team effectiveness. It can actually be really good for relationships when we're able to work through conflict together, teams that try to skip through that sort of storming phase of development, never perform as well as teams that embrace the conflict. And that is true for partnerships and alliances as well. So embrace conflict and use it as an opportunity to get closer.
NM : Yeah. And then I think, uh, kind of my action item here is create that relationship with that other person, with that group of people so that when you run into some sort of issue, you have a sounding board where you can resolve it quickly, even though you kind of took the extra time there to get another opinion. I think that's going to be crucial if you don't already have that in place. The next action item is not for you to give us a five-star review, although we'd really appreciate it. It's actually for you to subscribe to our LinkedIn page, if you can. And then if you could share the post for this episode, I think that it's very important. Conflict management, conflict resolution is definitely a high topic that's discussed in the negotiation world and whenever Aram’s dealing with negotiations. So we think it's extremely important. If you have anything that you would like us to cover in future episodes, you can send us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Again, this is a podcast that is all about elevating your influence through purposeful negotiation, and I'll catch you in the next episode.
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