Conflict is an unavoidable consequence of large collaborative effort toward a common set of goals. We can do a lot to organize teams in a way to avoid too much conflict and we can create a culture that doesn’t break down when conflict arrises but it will occur nonetheless. Conflict occurs when two or more people are in disagreement or experience a clash of interests.

It’s normal, and should be treated as routine, not an exception that ruins someones day or week. Even though conflict is frequent it’s rarely handled gracefully so we’re going to try to breakdown how to succeed in dealing with it.

Let’s start by discussing how conflict can go wrong.

What to avoid when facing conflict

When facing conflict it’s important to watch for common traps that threaten to make things worse.

Win LoseThinking the conflict can only be resolved if one party wins and the other loses.

Reality: Conflict is not win or lose. It is an opportunity to learn and generate mutual gains.
Perspective DivergenceThinking you have more perspective than the party you’re in conflict with and that they are wrong.

Reality: Taking time to understand divergent perspectives results in better decisions.
Over IntellectualizingJumping to intellectualize why you have the stance you do before listening to and understanding the counter points.

Reality: You need to open up space for others to join in conflict resolution, not push them away by forcing your rationale.
Blame GameFocusing in on blaming individuals or groups for the problem and engaging in ad hominem attacks.

Reality: Attempting to discredit others when facing a conflict hurts everyone and delays a resolution. It also creates an environment of distrust that takes a long time to recover from.
Conflict AvoidanceIgnore or suppress the conflict by feigning harmony but not resolving the cause of the conflict.

Reality: Hiding from conflict causes resentment, poor performance, or simply delays an inevitable conflict to later.

Approaching the Conflict

Framing is the most important aspect of how you deal with conflict. If you frame the conflict in a way that hinges on negative assumption from the outset, dealing with that conflict will become an uphill battle.

In order to set yourself up here, let go of negative thoughts and emotions and avoid using them to re-inforce your thinking. Put yourself into a frame of willingness to discover new alternative perspectives even if you feel very strongly about the validity of your stance.

Approach the conflict with a a readiness to forgive and to be forgiven.

State your factual observations

When you do engage on the conflict with a party or group, start by forming an analysis free, non judgement space.

We’re not initially looking to form opinions or analyze a situation, we are simply seeking to answer:

  1. What do we know?
  2. Do we agree on the facts?
  3. Where do we want to go?
  4. What does success look like?

If you can answer these questions together you’ve found common ground! This will be the foundation you lay your resolution on.

The “how many F**k’s” do you give method

If you’re working in a fast moving environment you’ll likely be making many decisions everyday and you wont always agree with everyone on the “how” to proceed. This can lead to decision conflict.

A very quick way to gauge conflict in scenarios where you’re making decisions is to ask the party you’re in conflict with to explain how many F**k’s they give. Like a pain test, ask the person you’re in conflict with how many F’s they give about this on a scale from 1-5. Depending on their answer you’ll know how strong they feel about the issue and you can tread gracefully or with swiftness.

Make a receive a request

Now that you have common understanding of facts, a destination in mind and some sense of how important this is to the person or group you’re in conflict with:

Clearly and plainly explain what you want and why using positive language. Do not demand things or state what you dont want. Ask the party in conflict with you to do the same.

This sets you up with a high chance of successful resolution. Even if you dont feel like the conflict is resolved right away, you will be rewarded with a new perspective to think about and change yours.

Be a conflict mediator

When you see conflict and can act from a neutral place, offer to mediate using the methods you’ve learned here!

Groups operate best when we all operate from a place of help and guidance, not rejection and complacency. If you can help others resolve conflict it’s likely one of the highest leverage things you can do in that given day!