People Power: The power on conflict - Jan 2020

By Sam Allman

I tend to be a peace maker. I hate conflict. I avoid it. Even when I am asked my opinion, I tend to be very careful with what I say, for fear it may create dissension. I avoid talking about politics and religion with acquaintances unless I already know their position on the subjects. If asked, “Where shall we eat?” I tend to let others decide to avoid conflict. I won’t watch CNN or Fox News because the dissension and conflict of the conversation stresses me out. Why should I get stressed or worry about things I cannot control? The dissension and conflict between some people in this country-citizens and politicians alike-causes me great worry. What’s even worse is the divisiveness they have caused. And, I am not alone.

Susan Page, in a USA Today column published December 5, wrote, “Americans are united on this: They are sick and tired of being divided…By overwhelming margins, those surveyed said national leaders, social media and the news media have exacerbated and exaggerated those divisions, sometimes for their own benefit and to the detriment of ordinary people… More than nine of 10-about as close to unanimity as a national poll usually reaches-said it’s important for the United States to try to reduce that divisiveness.” Besides sex, there is something else that sells: conflict and dissension. Politicians are using them to gain and enhance their power. Remember, power corrupts.

The problem is that conflict is neither inherently good nor bad. Poorly managed conflict can lead to war, divorce, and lack of productivity and profitability. It diverts energy from being used more productively. Besides affecting the psychological well-being of those involved, it wastes resources (think of how much money our politicians have wasted using it to increase their power); it creates a negative climate while breaking down group cohesion (think how divided we are); and worst of all, it increases hostility and aggressive behaviors (making us all feel unsafe and fearful).

Properly managed, however, conflict is absolutely vital. It can serve as an indicator of problems within an organization. When proactively seeking solutions, conflict or abrasiveness can generate creativity and original thinking thereby producing new ideas and unique solutions. In great teams, conflict becomes productive. The free flow of conflicting ideas and feelings is critical for creative thinking and for discovering new solutions no one individual would have come to on their own. Disagreements can magically produce ideas that can lead to better results. Adversity and conflict are the engine of creativity. Besides promoting organizational vitality, conflict stimulates and motivates change.

I believe a factor that makes our country great is our diversity. Immigrants from all over the world came to America for opportunity. They brought their culture and their ways of thinking and with that came the potential for conflict. We have weathered that storm up until now. We made it through the internal conflicts of segregation and the Vietnam War. It is inevitable and a fact that America will become even more diverse, again increasing the opportunity for conflict. And that will lead us to a decision: will we allow conflict to divide us, as it is doing now, or will we embrace our differences, collaborate and seek unique solutions for the benefit of all our people?

What will you choose? Divisiveness or collaboration? It’s not just about your country. You’ll have to do the same when conflicts arise in your family, your business, your relationships, your churches and your communities. Collaboration is the hallmark of higher levels of thinking, maturity and people power.

Collaboration is the process of two or more people or organizations contributing their expertise for the benefit of a shared objective, project or mission. Collaboration is similar to cooperation, but they are not the same. If people are working together but have no shared goals, they are cooperating not collaborating. Cooperation is usually more about getting a task crossed off the list. When a group of people pool their knowledge, skills and expertise, then talk problems out and debate potential solutions, problems are solved, and that is collaboration.

Collaboration brings people (and organizations) closer together. It shreds barriers in organizations and tightens connections between people. One of the best things about working collaboratively with people who bring different skillsets and backgrounds to the table is learning from each other’s experiences and perspectives. It opens up new channels for communication and boosts morale across any family, group, team or organization. As a result, it builds trust and more open and engaged group environments. Connection matters to people, especially in the workplace. We want to work with people we trust, who understand and respect our points of view, and who work well with others, especially those who come from different backgrounds and areas of expertise. Simply put, working collaboratively makes this possible.

Finally, the biggest benefit of effective collaboration is the result-a result that is usually greater and better than expected. It’s where one plus one equals three instead of two. It occurs when the product of parts working interdependently is greater than the sum of parts working independently. That is the definition of synergy. Synergy is inexplicable. It defies logic. How can two horses who work together pull significantly more weight together than the sum of what they can pull individually? How did John, Paul, George and Ringo produce significantly fewer hit songs individually than they did together as the Beatles? It’s always better together when there is effective collaboration because it enhances creativity and brings unknown resources to view.

My propensity for avoiding conflict has affected my ability to be a good leader because I have avoided giving needed feedback to others or dealing with unacceptable behavior from my constituents. Effective leadership and collaboration require the same kind of communication skills, and all of those skills can be learned. These skills facilitate communication between two or more people where stakes are high, opinions vary and emotions are strong. These “crucial conversations” are deemed as such because the dialogue generated by them is crucial for improving relationships, organizations, teams, communities and nations. Done well, that dialogue can resolve conflict or disagreements, build acceptance and overcome resistance.

Whether we are calling a crucial conversation a collaboration or not, it still is one. Its purpose is to facilitate movement toward mutually beneficial shared goals. It requires higher level communication skills. When in the midst of these conversations, we can do one of three things: avoid them (like I often do), handle them poorly (by getting angry and creating more conflict) or handle them well. If handled well, they create breakthroughs. I believe the ultimate ability of “People Power” is to be a breakthrough communicator. Breakthrough communicators know how to use conflict to produce extraordinary results through collaboration. Here are the skills required:

The ability to unify a divided group. “Diversity has great creativity, but unity has great power,” wrote Dr. Louis Tartaglia, author of The Great Wing. Reminder: people do things for their reasons, not ours. Influencing others requires understanding their needs and wants. Unifying a group requires finding the common purpose. It starts with exploring areas of agreement on major issues. And then committing to a shared goal that is mutually beneficial. Initially, the shared purpose may be just to find a shared a goal.

The ability to create a “feel safe” environment. Candor cannot exist unless it is safe for others to express their views, even if they are different from the prevailing opinion or somewhat controversial. Anything that prevents opinions, facts, theories and feelings from being articulated and shared is a threat. Nothing hinders the flow of information more than an unsafe environment. Note: if the environment is unsafe, some people will resort to silence and withdraw or to violence by forcing their ideas and agendas. Either way, the environment has become unsafe, and people have closed their minds.

The ability to listen intently, making others feel respected and valued. When you listen intently and people know you care about their objectives, trust thrives. Once you have trust, you can talk about almost anything. However, communication virtually dies when respect is violated. Mutual respect means maintaining civility toward others without demeaning their dignity. You do not have to agree to understand.

The ability and willingness to speak the truth in non-threatening ways. Be willing to be transparent, even to the point of articulating personal weaknesses and mistakes. Share your true feelings and concerns. Transparency builds trust. Speak gently. Use tentative language by being careful of the words you choose. Use “I” messages instead of “you” messages.” Avoid absolute statements like, “Everyone knows,” “the fact is,” or “it’s obvious that.” These statements are brutal to those that disagree. Ironically, the more forceful you are, the less influential you become.

The ability to stay focused on the shared purpose when emotions are high. Don’t get caught up in contention and conflict. Watch for signs of stress; take a deep breath; and be responsive not reactive. Check how you see others. Is silence or violence manifested? Ask yourself, what can I do to resolve safety? Check that you are listening well and validating. Am I being condescending or sarcastic? Am I acting defensively? Am I really hearing what they are saying even if I don’t agree?

When well-managed, collaboration is a reflection of a higher level of consciousness, emotional maturity and business savvy. “In great teams, conflict becomes productive. The free flow of conflicting ideas and feelings is critical for creative thinking, for discovering new solutions no one individual would have come to on his own,” wrote Peter Senge, author of The Fifth Discipline: The Art & Practice of The Learning Organization. Collaboration allows us to escape our own self-referential criteria to see other perspectives.

It is safe to say that we all agree that we should teach our children to resolve their conflicts more constructively. Maybe we should invest in a seminar that would teach our country’s leaders how to do it as well.

Copyright 2020 Floor Focus 

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