Conflict into Collaboration

Turn Conflict Into Collaboration with 6 Powerful Words

By Sylvia LaFair

How one sentence can change the dynamics in teams, remove blind spots and obstacles, and help you move from reactive to proactive mode.

The meeting started on a tense note. Michael, the fun-loving charismatic Sales Manager had handed in his resignation days before the off-site. No one saw it coming. Everyone was shocked learning that he called the VP of Sales from his home town across the country and said he was done. No face to face would happen. He said he would not be at the regional meeting, or any other meetings, ever. And no, there was no turning back. Done meant done. He agreed to give the required two weeks and turn over all the accounts. He was sorry that the timing was bad, however, he had given this much thought and it was best for him to step away before the busy season started up again.

The VP felt blindsided.

There had never been a discussion of discontent. When Ed, the VP walked into the meeting room, his sour mood spread like a virus to the rest of the team. There was a sense of hopelessness. Michael had been a star and they had depended on him. Emotions were all over the place. First blame Michael. That was easy. What they had loved about Michael, his easy going style and fast response time, was now seen in the negative.

To lighten the mood John asked “What is the difference between Michael and a savings bond?” And without missing a beat said “Savings bonds mature!”

Then quiet side comments were made pointing the blame at the VP who should have known something was amiss. And, the VP was good at blaming himself whenever anything went wrong. So, he started the meeting being accountable for what happened. He should have talked at a deeper level with Michael, and asked better questions. He went on and on with his mea culpa thinking that would help.

Being accountable is good, yet often not enough.

I had been asked to facilitate the meeting and I knew they would need something new and fresh to get out of the downward spiral that was leading to a quagmire of wasted energy. Figuring out what to do next was not happening. The team was swirling in platitudes and simple answers. They accepted the VP’s assessment of his role in the situation. Yes, they all agreed, he should have talked with Michael on a deeper level, yes he should have asked better questions. Now what?

They then talked about an organizational reset. More ideas came to play. This was a seasoned team having been through lots of team building and off sites and they knew the lingo.

They made a list of what to do differently that included:

  • Clearer expectations
  • Acceptance of current reality
  • Transparency
  • No Complaining
  • Cooperation not competition

They needed to go deeper themselves and I knew it would take some time to let them air their grievances, finish pointing fingers of blame and eventually come to completion with what had led them to the present situation.

Time was going and there was a need for that reboot. However, if they stayed with the logic of lists and left brain expectations they would end up with merely longer lists. The list they had was excellent and it was simply not changing the mood or the vision of the team. We took a break and when the team came back we went to another realm of operating.

It was time to do a dive under the obvious.

Freud was correct when he talked about how we, as humans, function with our conscious thoughts like the top of an iceberg along with the unconscious thoughts and desires we have that are below the surface of that same iceberg.

The unconscious parts of ourselves talk best in dreams, hunches, and intuitions. This part of us sees more than check lists. This part looks at more than just the next step. It includes and connects.

While there was initial resistance to undertaking a visioning process using music and imagery, the team was willing to go there, so long as it did not take too much time. You know, the old “time is money” comment.

Solve business problems by thinking less.

The process we used involved less than ten minutes of sitting in silence while I led the team through a short visualization of what their work environment would look like six months into the future. That was it!

Ten minutes is all it took for the creative juices to start to flow. Each individual was asked to remember a book or film that would give some pointers to what was needed now.

Focus elsewhere and focus internally.

Here is the end result of another ten minutes of sharing from the unconscious: Someone remembered the book The Three Musketeers and wrote down “All for one and one for all.” And within no more than five minutes the team came to the sentence that opened the door to new ideas and solutions.

Ed took a deep breath. That was what he needed. The rest of the team sat up. That had been the missing piece. They had until then, still been operating in a silo mentality and not looking as a system.

“We can work it out together” is a powerful, six word sentence that connects teams emotionally as well as logically, and when used, that is when creativity, productivity and harmony ignite.

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