The movie Hidden Figures has justifiably won acclaim not only for the story and acting. Octavia Spencer’s portrayal of Dorothy Vaughan also depicted the need to keep her skills up to date. She realized her job as a mathematician was likely in jeopardy when NASA installed an early IBM computer. She saw the handwriting on the wall and prepared for her and her staff’s future by learning FORTRAN. When programmers were needed, she and her staff transitioned seamlessly into new higher paying positions.Read More
Does this sound familiar? You’re with your team in a conference, the leader puts the big idea on the table, no one speaks and then one person agrees. Before you know it you’ve all agreed, only to learn later that many had unexpressed concerns. What went wrong? No on wants to go against the flow. Blinded by an apparent consensus, many stifle their thinking, concerns and questions despite the fact that even experts overlook key factors.Read More
We all think we are highly credible, but we need to validate that perception. Living in an illusion is not smart. I was working with a CEO who was asked at a staff meeting on Friday if a layoff was planned. He empathetically said no, but the following Wednesday the firm did conduct a layoff. He chose the desire to be popular over the need to be credible. Credibility stems from trustworthiness, believability and a commitment to high integrity.Read More
At first glance, exchanging information, meaning and messages among team members appears deceptively simple. After all, you know each other and share common goals. Unfortunately, communication and misunderstanding continue. Most of us are poor listeners who quickly jump to assumptions and immediately judge another’s message, rather than concentrating on the content. Effective communication takes analysis.Read More
Conflict Stages Impact Successful Group Decision Making
Recently, I resigned from a volunteer Board of Directors due to protracted and unproductive conflict. The Board suffered from heated verbal exchanges and deep-rooted personality conflicts, which diverted energy and stymied decision making. This experience seems all too common among groups. The American Management Association sponsored research, reported that middle managers spent 20% of their time resolving conflict while executives spent 18% of their time dealing with conflict. The AMA defined conflict as a breakdown in decision making mechanisms.
This situation extends beyond volunteer Boards of Directors. All types of executive and leadership teams experience conflict that leads to inept decision making practices. Whether it is repeatedly rehashing a past decision, keeping an issue “under consideration” for prolonged periods, withholding information, or permitting cliques to form the result is often ineffective communication and action. These dysfunctional behaviors can stem from a conviction that divergent views originate from personal agendas or self-serving intentions.
This personal lens blurs objective analysis that would make conflicts easier to resolve. Professional experience, including different educational backgrounds, typically produces distinctive conclusions on the best course of action. When unique ideas are first examined through a rational lens, creative resolutions are revealed and collaboration is enhanced. A focus on content encourages exploration for common ground, while personal stereotypes inhibit consensus.
Stages of Conflict
We all recognize that conflict can be constructive, as well as destructive. Initially, conflict can generate benefits, but in later stages a negative spiral can result. These stages can be depicted as moving from rational examination of content into personal labels. The following depicts the progression in the stages of conflict:
During the first two stages of conflict, difference over ideas and goals, innovative proposals and initiative can emerge. In these instances, differences are viewed as productive brainstorming and as steps to discovering new alternatives. Starting with an objective analysis of the idea produces better solutions, improves teamwork and reduces time required to make decisions. However, when conflict is attributed to personality or values, the likelihood of a promising outcome fades and the issue becomes a matter of who wins and who loses. In these situations, positions harden and creative problem solving vanishes.
The illustration above reflects the increasing breadth and depth of conviction when issues are viewed personally. Like the iceberg that the chart resembles, what is below the surface is the most dangerous. Just like the Titanic on its mad dash to establish a world record for an Atlantic crossing, when we jump into making characterizations we lose.
My decision to resign from the Board grew from personal conflicts, which are hard to repair. Perceptions, rather than thoughtful analysis, drove the board’s actions. People did not have the opportunity to “make their case” as accusations of hidden agendas, attempts to settle scores, the use of power plays, and rampant insecurity replaced fair consideration of ideas. The Board’s effectiveness suffered as many of its members elected to view conflict from a personal lens.
If you currently serve on a team, remind your team that divergent views are a constructive step toward excellence. The benefit may not be more effectiveness, but you will avoid wasting your time in unproductive exchanges—and retain your membership.
Dr. Mary Lippitt, an award-winning author, consultant, and speaker, founded Enterprise Management Ltd. to help leaders with critical analysis. Her new book, Situational Mindsets: Targeting What Matters When It Matters was published last year with a Foreword from Daivd Covey. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or https://www.linkedin.com/in/marylippitt/
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