We last discussed who to invite to a meeting. Now that you’ve figured that out, you need to handle potential conflict in meetings you hold.
Are you afraid of conflict in meetings? When you hold or participate in a meeting, do you prefer if everyone agrees so the process can move along? Conflict is not a bad thing. In fact, it is fear of conflict that is a bad sign.
In his book, The Advantage, Patrick Lencioni writes, “When there is trust, conflict becomes nothing more but the pursuit of truth, an attempt to find the best possible answer.”
Lencioni discusses productive ideological conflict, describing it as the willingness to disagree, even passionately when necessary, around important issues and decisions that must be made. He notes that “conflict without trust, however, is politics, an attempt to manipulate others in order to win an argument regardless of truth.”
Studies show that we perform best under a healthy level of tension or stress. Healthy is the key word. Sometimes tension includes conflict, and we need to learn not to be uncomfortable with it. Lencioni states that if you discourage conflict, your meetings become boring and unproductive. Healthy tension can be fruitful, a sign that there is are diverse positions surrounding an issue that warrants discussion and debate.
Avoiding Conflict in Meetings
“When leadership team members avoid discomfort among themselves, they only transfer it in far greater quantities to larger groups of people throughout the organization they’re supposed to be serving,” Lencioni said. All this succeeds in doing is ramping up the conflict even further until it reaches an unhealthy level.
It is unproductive for team members to avoid disagreement or conflict in meetings, hold back their opinions on important matters, and choose their battles carefully based on the likely cost of disagreement. That is a recipe for both bad decision making and interpersonal resentment.
Many people simply try to avoid conflict at all costs, attempting to live in constant harmony. This is virtually impossible. Lencioni states that you must accept that sometimes, you will cross that line and say something destructive, because you need the courage to engage in constructive conflict. It takes a certain amount of bravery to say what you feel and then work out the issues that arise.
Conflict Management Tools
It is not always easy to bring out healthy conflict in a meeting situation. Here are some tools to help you get started:
- Mining for conflict – Call out the elephant in the room and expose potential disagreements.
- Real-Time Permission – Give immediate, positive feedback when meeting participants try this approach to conflict. Interrupt a conflict and tell participants what they are doing is good. This helps people release the guilt that conflict can bring.
- Create clear expectations and guidelines about healthy and unhealthy conflict. As a team begins to practice this, they need to realize that they are learning a new and useful skill together.
- Rules of Engagement – Examples of rules can include:
- Silence will be taken as disagreement. You must weigh in.
- At the end of every discussion, every member must give formal commitment to the decision.