It’s helpful to reframe the meaning of conflict in our workgroups. If we can perceive its value, then we can increase our willingness to approach it and work through it. And when we are willing to work through conflict, we increase our chances of leading the group out of the quagmire.
1. Normalize It
Whenever I have struggled with something I perceive as a problem unique to me, I have found it extremely helpful to hear others describe dealing with the same thing. Normalizing my struggle, recognizing that I am not alone in the experience, reduces my fear and anxiety and refocuses my energies on working through the problem.
All groups encounter conflict as part of group process. (That is, unless they disband prior to getting to this process stage.) Rather than automatically believing that something is wrong with our group, we can celebrate it. Yay! We’ve made it this far!
2. Perceive It as an Opportunity to Break a Painful Cycle
Unaddressed conflict typically manifests itself in a cycle. Behaviors occur with some predictability. (See Addressing Conflict in the Face of Fear: Recognizing It.) The cycle includes times when meetings are less arduous, and hope rises in the hearts of members that things really aren’t so bad. But undisclosed thoughts of dissatisfaction and feelings of frustration never really go away, and as outward signs of conflict reemerge, doubts about safety and the group’s efficacy rise again like a high tide.
Conflict calls to us as group leaders to break this cycle. For the sake of the group. For the sake of our organizations. For the sake of our stakeholders. And yes, for the sake of ourselves. It calls to us repeatedly. It never gives up on us. Always giving us another opportunity, when we are ready, to do something different. I’d go so far as to say that it gives us an opportunity to be happy. Groups do not have to be perpetually painful!
3. Imagine New Possibilities
Once we begin to squarely face and address conflict, new possibilities begin to open up to the group and its individual members.
Try to imagine the group of your hopes and dreams. Too fluffy? OK. Imagine breakthroughs in understandings about each other, your group’s purpose, your daily tasks. Imagine better working relationships, relief from group struggles, greater independence and interdependence of group members. Imagine feeling energized during and after group interaction. Imagine a positive spill-over toward better relationships with your stakeholders.
Perfection of us as leaders is not required. We will make mistakes. That’s OK. It’s enough that we have chosen a different path. Dealing with conflict needs to be learned. It’s a skill for group leaders and group members to develop as both have new behaviors to learn.
Next week I’ll explore ways to constructively respond to conflict.