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.

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