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!”
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?