One of the top issues that leaders discuss with me is conflict with others at work. Perhaps:
• one person dominates weekly meetings with his opinion.
• the team is at odds about next steps on an important decision.
• a member of the team consistently misses deadlines.
• half the team wants to study a problem more while the other is ready to take action.
Sound familiar? Well, here’s the choice when conflict arises:
Leaders can either build walls or build bridges.
Leaders build walls to protect themselves. For them, the conflict feels personal. They operate from a posture of:
• Thinking: “This is about me, my interests, what I want. I have to control it.”
• Feeling: “I’m unsafe. I’m embarrassed. I’m losing.”
• Behaving: Bullying others. Giving others the silent treatment. Self-promotion at the expense of others.
On the other hand, when leaders build bridges, they are problem-focused. Here, leaders act from a place of:
• Thinking: “This is not about me. This is about the problem facing our team.”
• Feeling: “I don’t need to prove anything. I’m secure.”
• Behaving: Asking others for help. Offering to help others. Completing tasks promptly.
When you start building bridges, you begin collaborating with your team. You stop maneuvering with only self-promotion or self-preservation in mind. The best interests of the organization take precedent. What matters most is resolving the problem — not chalking up a win for yourself.
Remember: when you have a good team, conflict is inevitable!
This may seem counterintuitive, but it is really quite logical. Here’s why:
• Good teams are made up of people with complementary skills and perspectives.
• Complementary means different.
• Differences are at the heart of conflict.
Don’t run from conflict. Lean into it. Conflict can actually be a sign of a healthy team —a team that constantly refines and sharpens its solutions. Stephen Covey reminds us: “Strength lies in differences, not in similarities.”
So with conflict being inevitable, your response to conflict is what really matters. The leader who responds by building walls fosters resentment and dysfunction. The leader who responds by building bridges encourages greater team unity, and ultimately, better business solutions.
Take these steps toward fostering a bridge-building culture in your organization:
1) Personality styles are the source of much of the conflict on teams. Consider using a coach who is equipped with a personality assessment tool such as The Predictive Index or Myers-Briggs. This should help you better understand the different approaches each team member takes to solving problems and making decisions.
2) Find common ground and shared goals. Instead of focusing immediately on differences, focus on where you agree. Then, move from this foundation of what you have in common to tackling your differences.
3) Work every day to build trust with your teammates. Trust is the glue that holds teams together. Team members who trust one another are not anxious about what is said about them when they aren’t in the room. There is a pervading sense of “I’ve got your back” among the entire team.
In the heat of conflict, it is tempting — even initially satisfying — to build walls. But ultimately, this inhibits teamwork, and your results will suffer. Resolve today to be a leader who builds bridges.