How to Get From Conflict to Improved Relationships and Collaboration
By Erik Van Slyke Managing Director, Solleva | March 13, 2016
Conflict can catch us by surprise. On the surface, we work for congenial organizations where people are polite, friendly and rarely disagree. But try to create change and we can be met with resistance, delays, confusion, or even sabotage. One minute, we leave a meeting room with heads nodding in agreement. The next, somewhere on the way to implementing the plan, colleagues push back in ways we didn't anticipate and the conflict digresses quickly from a focus on the business issues to a focus on personalities and relationships.
Whether caused by the tasks, structure or processes of work or by the dynamics of interpersonal relationships, conflict is a frequent part of organization interactions. And despite its potential for positive effects, the relationship aspects of conflict most often create negative feelings for individuals and work teams. When we find ourselves in the struggle of these challenging relationships, we wonder how we got there, and more importantly: How can we resolve these situations? How can we change the course of these relationships from conflict to collaboration?
Take the case of Wendy, a technology leader charged with integrating and improving cyber security policies and processes across multiple divisions of a global organization. After nearly nine months of learning the current approach of each division as well as the specific business requirements she would have to address when implementing a new solution, she felt confident her plan would be met with approval. So, right before leaving for a week to take her daughter to college, she gathered her stakeholders together on a conference call and presented her plan. After sharing her thoughts for 45 minutes and fielding a few clarifying questions, she ended the call feeling excited about her success.
When Wendy returned to her office the next week, she learned she had not been as successful as she thought. Her boss asked to see her immediately, and with a stern look and noticeable tension in his voice, he recounted the barrage of emails and phone calls he received from her technology peers from other divisions as well as the senior executives they supported. Almost all stated they were opposed to the new policy and processes, and pointed to a number of business challenges that would support their point of view. To make matters worse, many complained about Wendy personally, saying that she did not understand their business, did not listen to their concerns and was trying to force fit a faulty solution. Her boss told her to "fix it."
Wendy was dumbfounded. Nobody had voiced these concerns in any of their previous conversations or in the presentation meeting. She was convinced that they were simply resisting her solution and would resist any change from the status quo. If only they would take time to better understand the bigger picture outside of their division, she thought, then they would support her idea. But she also wondered how she could even start a dialog when it was clear they didn't respect her and when she felt such betrayal.
Wendy's situation is not unique. No matter how much we hear about the potential benefits of conflict, when we are in the middle of it, it's no fun. Even when we try to set aside the challenges we have with the personal, it still proves difficult to resolve the differences we have with the business at hand. Whether we like it or not, the relationship issues get in the way.