Tips for Addressing Conflict: Is your Organization’s Conflict Style Constructive?

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While driving you forward, your organization is fueled by the ideas and perspectives of complex thinkers that look to the world with a studied gaze. With such unique and passionate visionaries at the helm, conflict can naturally bloom. Heated discussion can arise when deciding on best solutions. These kinds of conflicts have the ability to foster great change and advancement but only if they are addressed constructively. How will your board harness this heat to keep the mission at full tilt instead of looking to put out the fire and sweep it aside?

Do you avoid conflict at all costs?

By looking at the True Colors personalities philosophy, there are multiple styles when it comes to addressing conflict. Bill Behrens addresses avoiding mode in the article, Understanding Conflict Styles – The Avoiding Mode. “Avoiding is characterized as a low assertiveness and low cooperativeness mode.  When a person chooses this approach to managing conflict, they are willing to forego satisfying their own concerns and the concerns of others.” This can be useful when the ability to sit on a conflicting issue allows the group to finish a high pressure deliverable in the final hour. This style can be detrimental when it is overused and becomes the go- to style for the entire board. Allowing unaddressed issues to simmer too long can cause explosions that inhibit the path towards progress. Knowing what mode you and your board as a whole lean towards can help understand when a certain mode has become unsupportive. True Colors talks about the other styles here: Competing Collaborating CompromisingAccommodating.

If you or your organization has been using the Avoiding Mode to their detriment, think about learning new ways to address conflict. The energy you bring towards voicing your concerns will come back to you, often twofold. If you have the most experience and knowledge that a process needs to be improved for the good of the project, it is your responsibility to learn to voice these concerns, take leadership and be an example for the rest of the team. It can be painful for some to stand forward, if avoiding mode has been your go to. Do you defer to letting the louder, more aggressive members take the lead when it comes to conflicting ideas? What happens when you see the best solution? How can you stand in your resolve?

Take the stress out of resolving conflict.

Examine the privilege, expertise, education, and human networks that you have amassed along your path. Your organization can thrive if you learn to wield these responsibly for the good of the mission. Looking to the other styles of addressing conflict can reveal how to develop other approaches. Embracing conflict resolution is possible when you have to have systems, practice, designs to follow to ground you when a trying conversation needs to be addressed.

Holly Week’s of Harvard Business Review speaks to this in her article, Taking the Stress out of Stressful Conversations.

Take the time to prepare and practice voicing new ideas, problems and resolutions. This can be writing down your key points or role playing the conversation with an unbiased confidante. Enhancing your ability to recall key points and specific words that the other person will understand opens the door for others to see your point of view clearly.

This is an act of honoring all involved with the issue by taking the time and care to express what needs to be said. “Any technique that communicates honor in a stressful conversation—particularly a conversation that will take the counterpart by surprise—is to be highly valued.”  Without preparation, the issue is at risk of being awkwardly blurted out at an inopportune time. This can come off as defensive, disrespectful and a waste of time. Surprising, awkward segue-ways can happen when you aren’t sure what you intend to say.

Embrace cognitive conflict to innovate your organization.

When proper attention is paid to conflicts that come up within your organization, beautiful evolution of a free flowing ideas can happen. Solange Charas writes about the benefits of cognitive conflict after speaking with the directors of 22 small- to medium-sized publicly traded companies for her Phd research. “Cognitive conflict is task-oriented, with a focus on how to get things done to achieve optimal results. Cognitive conflict can sound like: “I don’t think your idea will work, maybe we need to look at it a different way…have you thought of this?” This kind of conflict is essential in creating value as it stimulates conversation around topics, addresses ideas or points of view with an opening for directors to offer something creative, innovative and positive.” Agreeing with your board all of the time doesn’t allow for progress. Remember, rocking the boat isn’t always a bad thing, even if you haven’t ever done it before. Your next idea that conflicts with business as usual could be just the thing to steer your organization towards a brighter future.



Megan Van Petten

Van Petten Group, Inc.

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