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The Conflict Beneath the Conflict

April 3, 2017

We’re encouraged to use conflict as opportunities for creativity, collaboration and greater awareness. But what about when an issue is intractable or a person seriously gets under your skin?

conflict iceburgTwo particular patterns have been showing up with my coaching clients. One reflects an external dynamic and the other reflects an internal one. They both offer an opportunity to recognize the conflict beneath the conflict.

When you find yourself addressing the same problem over and over again, consider this pattern as a signal that the real problem hasn’t been resolved. Step back and ask, “How could this be a symptom of an underlying issue?” Are there:

  • Competing compensation strategies?
  • Incomplete feedback loops?
  • Misaligned decision-making thresholds?
  • Unrealistic performance metrics?

Even considering the possibility of a root cause related to process, policy or practices can help lower defensiveness and increase openness.

But what about when, despite your best efforts to be “hard on the problem but easy on the people,” you find yourself responding on a very personal level?

Why is it that we address some conflicts strategically and diplomatically, but other conflicts catapult us to fight, flight or freeze?

When this happens, it can indicate that it feels like a deeply held value is being threatened. Ask yourself, “What important value is at risk?” and “How can I respond in a way that supports that value?” So do you:

  • Disagree with what the person said, or the disrespectful tone?
  • Think the approach won’t work, or suspect it’ll hurt team cohesion?
  • Dislike the suggestion, or it’s lack of creativity?
  • Not think the change will help, or worry about security?

Whenever there’s more than one person involved there’s the potential for conflict. When you look for the conflict beneath the conflict, there’s the potential for a deeper understanding of yourself and your environment.

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