Changing the Conflict Paradigm

13 Jun

I regularly get asked if I offer advice or training on dealing with conflict in the workplace.  The question almost always makes me wonder what philosophy the team must operate under that they need such training.  Negative conflict is a behavioral pattern that can be directly traced to a particular belief system or operating philosophy.  If you want to reduce or eliminate negative conflict, you need a new operating philosophy; a new conflict paradigm. My answer, by the way, is: “Yes, but probably not the advice or training you had in mind!”

Preoccupied, worried young male worker staring at computer screen in his office
Conflict, by definition, requires opposing views, but this definition is not implicitly negative. The determining factor as to the nature of the conflict is if the team can count to three or not.  Teams that can only count to two will have negative conflict.  Two opposing opinions: one – two!  For this team, there are two opinions and only one can be the outcome. Therefore, one is right and one is wrong.  One winner and one loser.  One – two! Sometimes referred to as the ‘win-lose’ philosophy, this is the operating philosophy of many teams and thus opposing views are the source of much negative conflict.

For teams that can count to three, however, opposing views are pure gold!  Teams that can count to three see conflict completely differently.  For these teams conflict is good and healthy.  These teams know that two opposing views is an opportunity to discuss and debate; to explore a subject thoroughly, and ultimately to develop a third and better viewpoint that did not exist prior to the conflict.  Two opposing views that initiates a professional exploration to find one better solution: one – two – three!  This is the ‘win-win’ operating philosophy.  The first win is for the conflict resolution and the second win is for the team, who strengthen themselves every time they resolve conflict in a positive way.

The issue here is not for the team to come to agreement on issues, but rather to operate under a philosophy that believes, working together, the team can produce better solutions than any individual team member could on their own.  The power of a ‘win-win’ philosophy is in having the team work cooperatively to solve problems.  In doing so, they will naturally develop mutual respect and trust, which further strengthens the team.

Like so many team topics, it starts with the team leader.  This is not a trick or technique, it’s a philosophy; the core value of collaboration.  The leader must believe it and live it before the team can embrace this conflict paradigm.  So, are you ready to count to three?

4 thoughts on “Changing the Conflict Paradigm

  1. I couldn’t agree more. Moving from a two-count team to a three-count team requires mutual trust between team members. You don’t have to be best friends with everyone on your team, but you have to trust that your co-workers will put the team goals ahead of personal goals. Personal success will come with team success.

    Great job on this article!

  2. Certainly, a very fascinating approach. As I was trying to think about it a little more with my narrow minded brain, I was motivated to think at the many variables that affect the 1-2-3 idea. Initially I was so focused on thinking about the limitations of a 2 person team to the many options that a team of many more members could bring to the table. In the end it is the mind-set as mentioned – “operating philosophy”. In a 2 person team the natural thought process is (for me at least) that there are two options and one of them is a go and the other is no good. But it is the mindset that needs to take precedence between two individuals in that both of those options may not the best ones but combining them may be. In a larger team, I was thinking that there would naturally be many options to discuss and work through, but even there it can narrow down to 2 options and if one is focused on there being only one right solution with the others all being wrong will create a negative conflict. Something I personally would have to be really careful of with my “green” (Dominance) personality.

  3. I totally agree that the paradigm shift must come from it’s leader for the culture to be accepted. The article was fantastic. I can relate to it after reading the book ‘5 Dysfunctions of a Team’. The book helped as the fable gave examples of the conflict and the method in how to resolve it ie: meetings, how to openly express ideas/conflict in a respectful manner, how disrespect was treated.

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