Conflict Can Build a Better Team

Does the very word conflict make you cringe? If you’re like many people, you’d prefer to avoid it and hope it goes away. Intellectually, everyone knows that denial only makes conflicts grow. So why is it that, in the workplace, we often avoid problem co-workers or choose to talk about them behind their backs rather than confront them with the issues? Perhaps it’s because we need a new perspective on conflict.

Although most of us tend to gravitate toward passive avoidance, says Nancy Ortberg, author and business consultant, conflict can actually be a tool that produces lasting changes. In fact, conflict is absolutely necessary to make great decisions and build great teams–but there’s one problem: Our mid-brain is wired for fight or flight. When confronted with a perceived attack (conflict), our mid-brain immediately messages us to become either enemies (fight) or strangers (flight). Neither of these mindsets breeds teamwork or good decision-making!

The trick is to help your team members or co-workers understand where they are in the moment, pull back, and get into their cerebral cortex, recommends Ortberg. Focusing on the problem, not the person, can help you transcend the fight-or-flight impulse and access this higher part of your brain. The cerebral cortex is where creative problem solving can happen, stimulating collaboration, creating allies, finding mutual solutions, and getting everyone to pull in the same direction.

If you avoid conflict, you will miss out on the very thing that could take you through to maturity and development. It takes courage to face a difficult issue head-on, but if you do, assures Ortberg, it will take your relationships with team members to a deeper place of intimacy and cooperation.

In a fresh take on the old adage, “Nobody’s perfect,” Ortberg reminds us that we should never be surprised to find that we’re broken. If a team member is letting you down, consider this: “If you want someone to do something well, you must give them permission to do it poorly, and not withdraw your connection with them, and not punish them and distance yourself from them. You need to coach them.” (View Ortberg’s whole talk here.)

Isn’t it encouraging to know that conflict can build a better team, and a stronger company culture? Next time you’re faced with a conflict in the workplace, decide to talk to the person instead of about him or her. Address the issue instead of criticizing the person, and conflict can become a positive tool in the hands of a wise leader.

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