When collaborating with others, conflict is to be expected.
Conflict is inevitable when you’re actually doing the hard work of collaborating. After all, if there’s anything that’s a guarantee in leadership, it’s conflict and criticism. So how do you respond? Do you embrace it? Or avoid it?
Conflict is not the problem, avoiding conflict resolution is.
So have conflict, and then wrestle to resolution. But whatever you do, don’t avoid conflict; it’s necessary for a healthy team. If you never have conflict on your team, then this might be symptomatic of a deeper issue.
Here are a few questions to ask yourself about your team:
- Do people feel the freedom to say what they really think?
- Are you, as a leader or manager giving enough ownership to those that you lead that mistakes are inevitable?
- Or is the rope so short because you have control issues and you want everything to be “just right”? And by “just right,” I mean it’s your way or the highway?
Allow people to disagree with you, but create environments for this.
In other words, when it’s planning and strategizing time, have a cone of safety where anyone can say anything. This is where differing points of view can come up and be wrestled with. But once you agree on a way forward, make sure everyone is on board.
Now what if people on your team have conflict with one another?
Instead of diving right in, start by asking whether or not they approached the other team member about this issue. Seek to understand what’s going on, but encourage them to figure out a way to solve the conflict before you get involved. If they do this and can’t come to an agreement, then you can come in as the third person to help resolve what’s going on.
Look for ways that you can adjust the circumstances that led to the conflict, rather than siding one way or the other.
Criticism Isn’t Healthy
While it’s a healthy thing to have conflict, and while I would even go so far to encourage you to cultivate conflict if there’s an absence of it on your team, criticism is another animal. Criticism is not healthy at all.
So how do you deal with overt and subtle criticism when you notice it?
First of all, figure out who’s the one doing the criticism. If the individual loves playing the devil’s advocate, has a negative outlook on life, and has a critical nature, then my suggestion would be to let the specific criticism roll off your back, and instead address their critical nature instead.
But what if the criticism is coming from a few individuals?
Then my suggestion would be to take a good look in the mirror and take responsibility for anything that you’ve done to bring this about. After all, nothing is ever 100% someone’s fault, so own your part and apologize, if necessary. Then work towards a solution.
You’d be surprised at how the power of criticism is destroyed when it’s brought to the light—so have a frank, open, and honest conversation about it.
In summary, when it comes to collaboration (click here for an article that I wrote on this important leadership competency), a good does of conflict is healthy for a team, but not criticism. You need to root that out.