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Excuse Me, Your Red is Leaking on my Blue

My apologies if you were expecting a political post.  I am discussing a somewhat related topic… conflict.

A study by AtTask found that U.S. employees spend an average of 2 1/2 hours per week resolving workplace conflict, which aggregates to $359B in lost productivity.  When I share this statistic in a workshop, participants often smirk and say, “only 2 1/2 hours?”  Top reasons cited in the study include mismatched priorities, miscommunication and differing expectations regarding deadlines.

What the surveyors miss is conflict based on the personality factor… the clashes that occur due to our individual ways of relating, pursuing goals or trying to solve a problem.

In the vernacular of an assessment we use at Iron Coaching… it’s when my Red (or Green or Blue) leaks on your Blue (or Green or Red).  Regardless of style – when we fail to acknowledge the power of our motives and how they bias our perceptions of others (and vice versa) conflict can occur!  The good news is that with awareness, commitment and practice we can reduce this type of conflict.

You may know the scenario… you’ve called a meeting with your team to discuss an important project.  As one team member confidently presents her assessment of the situation and high-level plan of attack, another team member starts to ask questions. At first the presenter answers succinctly, but when it’s clear that the other person is still needing details (and starts to reference a process she’s developed) the presenter’s demeanor changes from polite to curt and then, clearly irritated, she finishes and sits silently through the rest of the meeting.

Others present a few more ideas, but in the end no clear buy-in is achieved and one member of the team leaves miffed.  That’s not only unproductive, it’s counterproductive!

Relational conflict often occurs unintentionally.

Keeping with our scenario, let’s say our presenter is motivated by getting things done and she uses her persuasiveness, confidence and risk-taking nature regularly to accomplish her goals. Her colleague, on the other hand, is equally committed to seeing the goal accomplished, but feels more comfortable when facts have been considered, alternatives have been analyzed and decision-making isn’t rushed.  She questions our presenter to gain understanding with no intention of creating conflict. But too many questions push our presenter out of her comfort zone – and ZING, tension and conflict occurs.

So how does one minimize or prevent unintentional conflict?

 1.  Understand your strengths.  We tell clients that there is no such thing as a weakness – it’s really an over utilized or unmanaged strength.  Are you analytical – but sometimes overdo this by getting “too deep into the weeds”?  Does your competitive nature click into overdrive at times (i.e. win at all costs)?  Do you find yourself so helpful that you are doing things for people versus equipping them to do for themselves?

By understanding our strengths and how we may extend them too much we can do a self-check when the things that make us successful start to work against us.

2. Recognize your conflict triggers.  The more we are aware of the things that make our heart rate accelerate, the better we are at regulating ourselves. Situations are triggers. Timing can be a trigger.  And let’s face it – people are triggers too!

By taking stock of things that may flip your conflict switch, one is better at devising strategies to prevent something from escalating into the counterproductive zone.

 3. Make adjustments.  Armed with an awareness of your strengths and conflict triggers, you are in a position to identify patterns of behavior you may need to adjust for the sake of your relationships and positive outcomes.  The scenario I described might not have happened had our presenter acknowledged that not everyone will immediately be open to her idea or (heaven forbid for us confident types) that it might not be the only good idea!  By adjusting her perspective, she could answer the questions without feeling defensive or (even better) invite feedback along the way.

If you are leader, be attune to the relational dynamics of your teams and equip them with skills to recognize when conflict is good (e.g. while brainstorming), how it can be prevented through greater self-awareness and lastly, how to manage and diffuse conflict once it’s started.

…in every interaction where there was conflict we had an opportunity to escalate or de-escalate a situation.

A client of mine who used to work in corrections shared an insight I love to quote, “ …in every interaction where there was conflict we had an opportunity to escalate or de-escalate a situation. “ While we don’t typically make choices that could result in bodily injury or riot, the high cost of workplace conflict, the potential for savings and the benefits of healthy, productive relationships should get us to think twice about what we can do to minimize unintentional conflict.