Rise Performance Group

How do you deal with conflict?

A friend recently shared this story with me:  One of his client companies, in an effort to reduce expenses, implemented a new policy that stated the company would no longer pay for airline tickets above coach class. 

All the leaders said they were on board and that they recognized the need to reduce costs.

It was not too many months later when members of multiple departments were boarding a flight after a conference when some of the employees turned right towards coach class and others turned left towards first class.

When asked how they could still get a seat in first class, the employees said their manager indicated the new policy did not apply to their team. 

Obviously that department leader was not “bought in” to the new policy.  He could have voiced his concerns during the meeting.  He could have engaged in some constructive debate about the merits and demerits of the new program and the impact it would have on employee engagement. 

In a high performing culture, that debate is crucial and the leader should welcome it.  However, once the debate concludes and the final decision is made, it is time for everyone to commit to the decision.  Great leaders are also good followers.

Patrick Lencioni teaches that constructive conflict is critical to building a high performing team.

It is the unfiltered constructive debate of ideas that leads to full buy in.  Teams who skip this step run the risk of having an oversupply of passive aggressiveness.  (Passive aggressive people are those who say they are bought in during the meeting, yet they have not fully committed to the decisions made in the meeting.)

Why do leaders avoid conflict?

If we believe constructive conflict is a crucial element of high performing teams, why don’t all leaders encourage this type of constructive conflict and debate?

I have found there are three key factors that determine how we deal with conflict:

  1. Cultural and family norms – what rules about conflict were we exposed to as we grew up. What rules about conflict do we see exhibited in the workplace?
  2. Our own beliefs and experiences with conflict – when we have engaged in conflict, what has been the outcome? What do we expect to happen?
  3. Our unique temperament and personality – As we discussed last week, we are each special and unique in our design. However, there are four behavioral categories psychologists have provided for us within the framework called DiSC.  These categories can help us learn about our natural motivation, priorities, fears and limitations, including how we deal with conflict.

Productive vs. Unproductive Conflict

Conflict is a difference of opinions involving strong emotions.  It triggers different behaviors in each of us ranging from destructive to productive.

A leader should leverage productive conflict without crossing the line to unproductive conflict.


DiSC and Conflict Resolution

Let’s explore the four DiSC behaviors and their productive versus destructive tendencies in handling conflict:

DiSC Destructive Tendencies Productive Tendencies
D – Dominance Insensitivity, impatience, creates win-lose situations, refuses to bend, overpowers others Straightforward with opinions, acknowledges tough issues, willingness to have objective debate
I – Influence Becomes overly emotional, talks over others, impulsiveness, glosses over tension, makes personal attacks Communicates empathy, encourages open dialogue, provide reassurance, verbalizes emotions
S – Steady Withdraws, gives in to please others, ignores problems, lets issues simmer beneath the surface, avoids tension Shows flexibility, looks out for people’s feelings, communicates tactfully, listens to others, finds compromises
C – Conscientious Defensiveness, uses passive-aggressive tactics, becomes overly critical, isolates self, over-analyzes the situation Find the root cause of the problem, sorts out all the issues, gives people space, focuses on the facts

Each trait handles conflict in a different way.   You can use this reference chart to help understand when your approach is becoming destructive and when you need to create the space for more constructive conflict and debate amongst your team.

(If you don’t know your DiSC type, I’m offering a complimentary DiSC Assessment for my blog subscribers this month.  Simply email info@risepg.com with the subject “My DiSC Assessment”.  This offer is only valid for one Assessment per subscriber and only during the month of May 2017.)

A Leader’s Role in Conflict

Leader must welcome constructive conflict, not stifle it.

We need passionate dialogue around issues and decisions that are key to the organization’s success.
  Great team members do not hesitate to disagree with, challenge, and question one another, all in the spirit of finding the best answers, discovering the truth, and making great decisions.

If your team is not committing to decisions, accepting accountability and delivering at a high-level, then maybe you need to strive to create more constructive conflict and the constructive behavioral tendencies discussed above.

If, on the other hand, your team is mired in conflict and the destructive behaviors mentioned previously, understanding each member’s DiSC style and helping them move from unproductive to productive conflict will help end the standoff.

Ready to move from “team” to High Performing Team?  Find out more about our workshop, The Five Behaviors of a Cohesive Team, and how you can bring this dynamic workshop to your organization.





2 thoughts on “How do you deal with conflict?”

  1. Great article Mark and very informative!

    I’d like to add one more thought on “Why do leaders avoid conflict?”. Many times the simple reason we avoid conflict is to avoid “looking bad”.

    It is easier to walk away from conflict rather than risk the other groups members having a perception which makes you momentarily uncomfortable. If we take the opportunity to truly handle things constructively this may happen initially but the team will come around 🙂

    When we avoid looking bad it is only our self interests that can be served… it does not allow for success of the team!

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