Much of the work we do supporting organisations up to big change involves working with boards, SMT’s and project teams. There are passions. And there are pressures. And inevitably there are different ways of looking at problems, and different suggestions for getting to where people want to go. So conflict is almost inevitable. It can derail the best teams.
There are many wisdoms and approaches that help. Here are a few that have been particularly useful in the last couple of months. Perhaps they can help you too.
1. What we’re arguing about is never what we’re arguing about.
This sounds a bit odd, but the surface argument (which option to choose, what is the reason for something happening/not happening, whatever is ‘the real issue’ etc) is never actually the cause of the conflict. Look deeper. Feel for what lies beneath. And you’ll find the argument is founded on things like lack of trust, lack of respect, lack of listening, lack of empathy, lack of awareness. So when it all ‘kicks off’, take a moment to breathe, and look beneath, and find what you really have to deal with.
2. Shift from contempt to curiosity.
This phrasing comes from the work of Kaitlin Walker. The underpinning is simple. People sense how we really feel about them. And the ‘vibes’ we put out affect people’s reaction to us. And vice versa. If there’s any sense of contempt towards a person, conflict will grow. But when we shift to being genuinely curious about their thoughts, feelings and opinions, seeking to understand, everything opens up.
3. Tackle the ball not the player
An important aspect here is separating the argument/problem from the person. Focus on understanding the argument, and feel only respect and care for the person. If there is a problem put it in a ‘third space’; perhaps writing the issue or showing the data on a flipchart, screen or report. When talking of the problem, talk to that third place. When looking at the people speak only of belief, recognition and appreciation. People realise that they, and their thoughts, words and actions, are the solution to whatever the challenge is. When people eyeball each other and talk of the problem, see how quickly the defences go up and the progress shuts down.
4. Everything is easier when people feel heard and understood.
It’s a curious thing, but when people feel deeply heard and fully understood, magic happens. It takes time, but it saves time. When someone who may have been ‘the problem’ is fully heard and understood, the group sees things in new ways. Deeper understanding between people develops. Energy levels calm and empathy breaks out. And even if we are the dissenter and don’t agree with what is finally decided, if we have been genuinely heard and understood it’s somehow easier to go with it.
5. Notice and Name
This is a perennial favourite from our Gentle Catalyst canon. It just keeps working. And it’s simple. Without judgement, or aim to fix, cure or blame, just notice and name exactly what you notice going on. Energy rising. Some talking more than others. How much listening is happening. How many times the team have been round the issue. What you are feeling right now.
And all of the above are related. When it is expressed simply, with curiosity rather than contempt, with a view to hear and understand, recognising the people are the solution it is like a collective act of mindfulness. People become aware. And with awareness comes transformation. Often as soon as something is noticed and named it transforms for the better.
We hope this helps!