CONFLICT – CAN IT BE SPARKED BY A TEAM’S DIVERSITY?

It is said that the only constant in business is change. And as there is no business without people, I’d add the conflict in the team to the “constants” list; even in the most close-knit teams, difficult situations happen, which springs from the very group life process. And that’s okay. What’s important in all of this is being aware of the fact that those uncomfortable moments do not always have to turn into a conflict. That’s right, you can control it, and this is what I want to tell you about…

If you were to determine, in a nutshell, the main source of conflict, what would you say? I’ll give you a hint: IT’S PEOPLE. I’d also add that the PEOPLE themselves are not the problem – the fact that people are different is. And the fact that I don’t understand “how could he do that”, because I’d never do that this way or “how could he take those steps”, even though we agreed on something else, the tension bubble is pumping up so hard it makes it difficult to breathe.

When I teach the teams about conflict and how to prevent its escalation or how to cope with it, I point out that there are 3 elements to the situation:

THE FIRST ONE is the circumstances – and everything around them: what, where, when and what should be done; facts are crucial.

THE SECOND ONE is people, everyone who is involved in the situation; importantly, what they bring in the situation are their needs and motivations, but also their fears.

THE THIRD ONE is relations and interactions between those people. The more positive the interactions, the higher the level of involvement and efficiency of the team as a whole.

Don’t be misled by what some people claim (and are wrong about), that work is about getting the job done, not mucking about what is going on between people. The more we avoid talking about what’s going on between people who are performing their tasks, the higher the chance of getting mucked for good. The only things left will be weeping and gnashing of teeth at the thought about how the employees/bosses are cruel. Sounds familiar?

It’s just a little digression, let’s go back to the point and to what is happening with those 3 elements in a conflict situation. Now recall a situation (“Problem or situation” on the “Pyramid of conflict” below) which sparked a conflict, was difficult for the relations in the team or for your relationship with the client.

What did you think about all that then? Maybe instead of focusing on the facts, looking for a solution, you redirected your thoughts to the other person (“Person” on the pyramid): what did this person say, do; or maybe you focused on how you found that situation difficult and frustrating? My point is that maybe you’ve lost control over the situation by giving in to negative convictions, misunderstanding of the other person’s behavior?

And even if you think that you simply don’t do that, maybe you should analyze, fair and square, what you “automatic” reaction in a conflict situation is. The more diversity in a team, the harder the situation, because there is little understanding for doing things differently – that’s just how it is. And when we wrap others with assumptions that he or she is doing something wrong, that he or she can’t do it like that, that something is not right etc., the positive relations and good influence are blocked. And what about trust? What trust? There is no room for that. The room has already been taken by the SITUATION/CIRCUMSTANCES, which is unnecessarily treated as if it was a “big deal” (showing on the graphics that it takes the most of the space), imposing negative convictions about a person, which is usually the result of misunderstanding of the person’s behavior and judging it using our own measure – what I do, what I need, how I think it should be etc.

As in conflict situations it is easier to impose negative thoughts on others than to focus on finding a common solution (that happens in RELATION, for which there is little room in the pyramid of conflict), how to find a way out of the situation? Knowing different behavior patterns, motivations (diagnosed by DISC D3) will help you not to get stuck on the person and, with the help of relations, look for a solution. The pyramid of conflict will turn around, giving space for the understanding of what someone really wants to say, not only for what you hear, for building and developing relations instead of being stuck in a difficult situation.

Summing up, conflicts in teams have been happening and will continue to crop up; the more diverse the teams are, including diversity at the level of values, the more likely the escalation of difficult emotions and unnecessary exaggeration. The cure is to work on the willingness to understand where the behaviors, mine and the other person’s, come from, to avoid judging others and making use of the diversity in the team, looking for solutions together.

WE, THE PERFECTIONISTS… TO WHAT LENGTHS DO WE GO AND HOW OTHERS SEE US

When they do something, they do it well. When they put their name on something, they want to take care of every little detail. They always opt for a clear message, for them, 9 A.M is 9 A.M, not 9.10, but 9, period. They go to work to do their job diligently; that’s why they are very focused on getting the job done and they don’t want to waste their time on chit-chats. Perfectionists. The leitmotif of their work-life is quality.

Do you know anyone like that? Or maybe I just described you? Because this description definitely fits me very well – conscientious people, who in the DISC model present a high C style ratio (compliant; remember that we often represent two or three behavioral patterns; I also have a high D style). Interestingly, we are often seen as perfectionists, but our reply is: „Come on, everyone cares about quality, it’s natural, details are important etc.”. Dear PERFECTIONISTS, not everyone is like that; in the workplace, it’s only 20% of people. Let me quote some arguments about why teams need us and how others can perceive us in cooperation:

– We have VERY HIGH WORK STANDARDS or at least standards higher than 80% of our employees, coworkers and clients. I know that we set those high standards for ourselves first, but we also expect high-quality work from others. The problem is that not everyone is capable of meeting those standards. Not because they don’t want to, but the thought of polishing the same document or idea again and again from yet another point of view just does not cross their minds.

Dear perfectionists. Let’s remember that the quality we represent is our gift. Let’s share it, but if we are team leaders we mustn’t forget that we have to teach our employees our standards, show them what it means to meet our standards. Seriously, not everyone finds this obvious. I used to get frustrated when I heard that delegating is the boss’ job. What was the point if I had to redo my employees’ work over and over again and if getting the job done, at the end of the day, took more time. Right, there are things that I can do faster and better than others, but I invested in teaching them my standards. Only I know how much patience it required, but it was worth it; I let others make mistakes and learn from them. Let’s not forget that teaching standards is to consist in showing good practices, not pointing out mistakes or highlighting that the other person still „doesn’t get”

– We can foresee the upcoming RISKS. We hold our ground like no one else and we are able to sense what could go wrong in every new initiative. Notably, we are usually right. However, there is a „but”… I remember when my boss or a different department in the PR agency were presenting a new project and it was me who took the lead in presenting the list of what could go wrong and why, what they’ve forgotten about, what they’ve omitted etc. Even if I didn’t actually say anything, believe me, my face expression said it all. It is worth underlining that I really meant well. I wanted to help. I believe that if you are to do something, you have to be well prepared. That’s what I wanted to say every time.

Today, my attitude has changed. My philosophy on quality hasn’t changed, but when I hear about a new project, I deliberately redirect my thoughts, to first find something positive about it, to focus on the possibilities; I still think about the risks, but I don’t let them be the starting point of the conversation. There is nothing wrong with thinking about the risks, but we, the strong C style personalities, naturally tend to look through black-colored glasses (which is why we often decide against taking a risk or we take our time making a decision – which is not always a good thing).

I know myself well and accept myself, which is why today I have no problem admitting that now I understand how difficult working with me used to be for people who are different than me. Presenting a new project, having the best intentions, they felt how I cut them down saying that something wouldn’t work. I humbly admit I made mistakes and here are the two main lessons I learned from them:

LESSON 1 When hearing about new solutions or ideas, I learn to first seek possibilities, not risks. There is something positive in each idea, in each and every one (!) of them.

LESSON 2 I don’t ignore risks, but I pay attention to the way I talk about them; for example: instead of saying “That won’t work because you haven’t thought about xyz”, I say: “That’s interesting. I haven’t thought about that. And how about checking xyz” – it does sounds different, doesn’t it? I talk to my employees in a similar way. Instead of presenting the list of what wasn’t perfect I say: „It is important to pay special attention to xyz in texts like that. That will help us in …”. It may sound like a nuance, yes, but this nuance does make a difference. I can see that thanks to this kind of feedback, next time people want to impress me, prove that they „got” what I was talking about, that they want to get better at what they do. And it’s not easy, doing in every day, believe me, but I know that it is worth it. I know that it is the only good way to be a leader, to let people grow and encourage them to do it while working with me. And also to show them that I care about them.

Criticism – how to criticize with kindness?

We are no strangers to criticism – delivered by our bosses, partners, colleagues and, very frequently, even by ourselves. It seems to me that it has been even easier to express criticism towards others since advanced technologies have become available. We do not have to look into somebody’s eyes. A message or a post written in the social media is enough. Let them know what kind of people they are, let them think whatever they want to and finally start to act differently. Let them know my personal opinion. After all, people keep saying: „We should not keep your feelings only to yourself, express yourself, talk about what you feel” etc.

We are criticized and we also criticize others, to a greater or lesser extent. I do not intend to defend criticism because I believe that it does not need defending. Criticism in itself is good if used for relevant reasons at the right time and in the right way. I am going to share with you some far-from-theoretical knowledge, i.e. the experience I have gained thanks to working with people who are smarter than me and who helped me learn a lot.

Why should we criticize?

Interestingly, when – during training courses or consultations of competence test results – I ask people about when we should criticize others, I often am told that we should do it when someone has earned it. And when I ask them when we should recognize others, then I hear that we should do it if someone has REALLY earned it. People also say that one should be careful with all that recognition; it should not be used too often, so as not to boost self-confidence too much. Because what would we do then? Oh, those dilemmas…

To be honest, I do not think it is right to criticize always and use recognition only in exceptional situations. I have learnt that it is important to do both, as it can be extremely valuable, provided that the goal is right. That goal is to help somebody learn, adopt a different perspective (and recognition can help that as well!). Today I am going to focus only on…

…how to criticize?

I am a rather hot-tempered person, so I tend to react very fast in certain situations („D” behavior style). That is why, for years, I used to tell people immediately that they had done something wrong. I also did not use to have any problems with choosing the right arguments, as I usually find it easy to notice what is wrong or what can be improved (compliant behavior style – C). I let my emotions take over my actions (because supposedly you cannot keep them bottled up) but did it result in any permanent change in the behavior of the other party? That is doubtful. I mentioned a permanent change deliberately because the fact that someone modified something just for a moment, out of fear or for the sake of peace  and quiet, is definitely not an achievement. My criticism very often resulted in the other party feeling really offended. I was frequently surprised by that, as my intentions were always good.

Now, before I start saying something or write an important e-mail, I ask myself the following questions: Why am I doing this? What is my aim? If my actual intention is to point out somebody’s mistake or a shortcoming, I decide against it. I also hold back when I feel that I can lose control over my emotions any time. Seriously. I move on to another task, turn on loud music, go for a walk or simply clean the house – if that is where I am at that time. And I don’t intend to let it go. I will come back to the criticism but I need to take my time to calm down. In my journal, where I write down what I have learnt from my mistakes, I noted: „When I’m angry, I don’t write e-mails, I don’t call. I take my time to simply calm down.” This is one of the most difficult challenges for me, as WAITING is against my nature. However, I make an effort to deal with it as I have seen many times that this is the most effective strategy to criticize constructively – to name what I disagree with, what I feel bad about or simply what made me angry. On many occasions waiting helped me „verify” whether something I wanted to criticize was actually worth it. It turned out that every time my inner perfectionism was starting to take over, my expectations towards others might have simply been exaggerated. I am still learning how to take it easy whenever possible. It will not make a huge change, but will enable others to make mistakes and thus learn from them and become more experienced.

In other cases, if I feel that the criticism is justified, when I take back control over my emotions, I think about what needs to be said to reach the goal, namely:

– to find a solution in case of a difficult situation and not to dwell on what went wrong

– to help others learn from their mistakes instead of complaining that something should have been done differently, that it’s not the way to go, etc.

In both cases:

  1. I point out what has happened, what was wrong, what I disagree with (I refer to specific behaviors), but I focus on the FUTURE, on what we are yet to achieve together, what our expectations are and what can potentially be learnt from a certain mistake;
  2. I stick to my own scope of responsibilities, which means that I do not tell them that they are hopeless, that they did something really poorly, that they lack professionalism. I tell them about my feelings instead: that I cannot accept something, I am angry about it, I have to disagree, I am disappointed etc.

Let me give you an example. Seemed to have been testing me with his permanent failure to deliver work on time, although previously I had explained that I find punctuality extremely relevant. In the case of one of the most significant projects, he once again failed to deliver the report on time. All they told me is that they are swamped with work and that I do not understand how much time it takes to prepare these analyses. I am very sensitive when it comes to passing the buck on me and I was about to start writing an e-mail immediately but …I decided against it. On that day I went on a power walk and came back with a ready e-mail in my head. That time was enough to allow me to describe the situation without emotions: “Once again, the report I received included errors and I got it after the deadline, only after I request it. That is not acceptable, especially bearing in mind that we met before the project was launched specifically to agree on the details and to talk about our expectations. I am angry, because I am keeping my end of the bargain, including your expectations regarding the payment deadline. I expect you to do the same. I need to receive the corrected report by noon. What kind of solution could you suggest in this situation?”

Back when I was a coach, I used to teach a specific criticism technique. Now I know that it is not the word order that matters but criticizing for the right reasons. It is all about respecting both myself and the other party. It is about searching for solutions, helping others learn from their mistakes and about not focusing on problems and errors too much. How will the other party use it? I do not have 100% impact on that because me and my reactions are the only thing I have any influence on. However, I have observed that my calm criticism, not driven by emotions, inspires me to look at it not as at a certain threat, but as an opportunity for change and development.

Konflikt – czy różnorodność w zespole może go powodować?

Mówi się, że jedyną stałą w biznesie jest zmiana. A że biznesu nie ma bez ludzi, to ja do listy „pewniaków” dodam konflikt w zespole; bo nawet w najbardziej zgranym zespole pojawiają się trudne sytuacje, co wynika z samego procesu życia grupy (o czym pisałam TUTAJ). I to jest w porządku. Ważne w tym wszystkim jest to, aby wiedzieć, że te niekomfortowe momenty nie zawsze muszą przerodzić się w konflikt. Tak, tak, nad tym możesz mieć kontrolę i o tym dziś chcę Ci opowiedzieć…

Gdybyś jednym słowem miał określić, co jest główną przyczyną konfliktów, to co byś odpowiedział? Podpowiem Ci: LUDZIE. Rozwijając to, dodam, że LUDZIE sami w sobie nie są problemem, ale fakt tego, że ludzie są różni. I to, że nie rozumiem, jak „on tak mógł postąpić”, bo ja bym przecież nigdy tego tak nie zrobiła, „jak śmiał podjąć takie kroki”, bo przecież umówiliśmy się na coś innego, pompuje często tyle napięcia w zespołową bańkę, że wręcz nie ma czym oddychać.

Kiedy uczę zespoły o konflikcie i o tym, jak ich nie eskalować czy jak sobie z nimi poradzić, zwracam uwagę na to, że w całej sytuacji mamy 3 elementy:

PIERWSZY to sytuacja – i to wszystko co wokół niej się wydarzyło: co, gdzie, kiedy i co należy zrobić; fakty są tu podstawą.

DRUGI to ludzie, czyli wszyscy zaangażowani w daną sytuację; co ważne, są w tej sytuacji ze swoimi różnymi potrzebami, motywacjami, ale i lękami.

TRZECI to relacja między tymi ludźmi, czyli odzwierciedlenie oddziaływania między nimi. A im bardziej pozytywny wpływ ludzie w zespole mają na siebie, tym wyższy poziom zaangażowania i skuteczności całego zespołu.

I nie daj się zwieść temu, co niektórzy błędnie głoszą, że w pracy chodzi o to, żeby zrealizować zadania a nie babrać się w tym, co między ludźmi. Otóż, im bardziej będziemy unikać mówienia o tym, co się dzieje między ludźmi, który realizują owe zadania, tym zwiększamy szanse na zababranie się na „amen”. A później już tylko pozostaje płacz i zgrzytanie zębów na myśl o tym, jacy to okrutni: pracownicy czy również i szefowie. Znasz to?

To taka drobna dygresja, wracajmy już do meritum i tego, co się dzieje między tymi 3 czynnikami w sytuacji konfliktowej. Przypomnij sobie jakąś sytuację („Problem lub sytuacja” na poniższej „Piramidzie konfliktu”), jakieś zdarzenie, które wywołało konflikt, było trudne dla relacji w zespole lub dla twojej relacji z klientem.

Co wówczas myślałeś o całej sytuacji? Czy przypadkiem zamiast skupienia się na faktach, szukaniu z innymi rozwiązania w sytuacji, swoich myśli automatycznie nie przekierowałeś się na drugą osobę („Osoba” na piramidzie): co zrobiła, co powiedziała, może też na tym, jakie to było dla Ciebie trudne, frustrujące itp.? Zmierzam do tego, czy przypadkiem nie straciłeś kontroli nad sytuacją, oddając kontrolę negatywnym przekonaniom, niezrozumieniu zachowań drugiej strony?

I nawet jeśli sobie myślisz, że Ty tak na pewno nie robisz, to może pokornie przeanalizuj to, jak „z automatu” reagujesz w konfliktowej sytuacji. Tak już jest, że im więcej różnorodności w zespole, tym w trudnej sytuacji z klucza mniej zrozumienia dla tego, że można postąpić inaczej niż ja sama/sam. I kiedy już tak okleimy innych założeniami o tym, że ktoś coś źle robi, że tak nie można, że tak źle itp., tym bardziej blokujemy miejsce dla pozytywnej relacji, dobrego wpływu. A zaufanie? O czym mowa? Na to nie ma miejsca. Tę przestrzeń zagrabia sobie SYTUACJA, która niepotrzebnie urasta do „wielkiego halo” (na grafice pokazuję, że zabiera najwięcej miejsca), narzucając na osobę negatywne przekonania na jej temat, które zwykle wynikają z tego, że nie rozumiemy zachowań, oceniamy je przez swój własny filtr – jak ja robię, czego potrzebuję, jak powinno być etc.

Skoro w trudnej sytuacji łatwiej nam narzucać na innych negatywne myślenia na ich temat niż zająć się szukaniem wspólnie rozwiązania (to się dzieje w RELACJI, dla której w piramidzie konfliktu nie ma zbyt wiele miejsca), to jak z tego wybrnąć? Otóż, znajomość różnych stylów zachowania, motywacji do działania (a to diagnozuje badanie DISC D3) pomoże Ci w tym, by nie utknąć na osobie a korzystając z relacji, szukać rozwiązania w sytuacji. Odwróci się piramida konfliktu, dając przestrzeń dla zrozumienia, co ktoś naprawdę chce powiedzieć, a nie tylko tego, co słyszy, budowania czy rozwijania relacji zamiast trwania w trudnej sytuacji.

Podsumowując, konflikt był, jest i będzie w zespołach; im bardziej różnorodne są te zespoły, w tym na poziomie wartości, tym większe prawdopodobieństwo eskalacji trudnych emocji i niepotrzebnego wyolbrzymiania sytuacji. Lekarstwem jest wypracowanie nawyku chęci rozumienia tego, z czego wynikają zachowania moje i drugiej strony, by nie oceniać innych a korzystając z różnorodności w zespole, wspólnie szukać rozwiązań.