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How to turn conflict into ‘productive challenge’

Staff conflict is usually a much-dreaded scenario in the workplace and something that many people avoid at all costs. However, fear of conflict can be a problem in itself – so much so that it is described as one of the five workplace ‘dysfunctions’ by leadership guru Patrick Lencioni in his bestselling book, ‘Five dysfunctions of a team’.

‘Conflict is a fact of life’, says People Puzzles HR Director Jude Owens. ‘When you interact with people, at some point it is inevitable.’ Jude believes that while conflict is often perceived as negative, it can be a driver for positive change. ‘I sometimes call it productive challenge,’ she says. ‘Sometimes all you are doing is challenging.’

Jude refers to a Conflict Management tool that People Puzzles HR Directors sometimes utilise when dealing with clashes in the workplace. The EverythingDISC Productive Conflict behavioural assessment provides a way of exploring behaviour in conflict situations. It’s part of a suite of psychometric tools designed to get teams of people talking about their strengths and weaknesses, as well as helping them find out what makes each other tick.

‘Conflict happens often in organisations, particularly at senior level,’ Jude says. ‘People will often have a different approach because we’re all different! So it helps to have honest and constructive conflict.’ Jude adds that conflict is often triggered by change – for example if a new team is formed, or a well-established team undergoes seismic changes.

The Productive Conflict tool comprises a questionnaire that participants complete to help them explore how they respond to high-pressure situations. ‘The first part is understanding your natural style and how that might change in conflict,’ says Jude. ‘Under pressure we behave differently. This questionnaire helps you understand what your pressure situations are, what your behavior will be like and where the trigger points are.’

The questionnaire is usually followed up with a group coaching session run by a practitioner who is knowledgeable in DiSC theory, to help prompt discussions between individuals and help them understand each other’s communication style. ‘Understanding our communication style is very important,’ says Jude. ‘It enables you to say to others, “when you do X, this is what it does to me and as a consequence I stop listening to you. Please do Y instead.”’

Buy-in from all the participants, especially the CEO or MD, is essential for the sessions to be productive. ‘It’s about encouraging the team to work collaboratively and openly together,’ explains Jude. ‘It’s about the organisation not the individual. If I make a recommendation to use a tool like this, we would facilitate it but ultimately the CEO would be the person championing it so there is no excuse for not doing it.’

Jude recommends revisiting the exercise once a month rather than as a one-off. ‘The value is being able to come back and talk about how you’ve used it in a real life situation,’ she says.

The ultimate aim is to help teams work more collaboratively and utilise the different skills of the people you have without conflict getting in the way. ‘Done well, you do see a fairly immediate impact on the team – and their teams below them as well,’ says Jude. ‘It can effectively change the organisational culture and help people to personally grow.’

If you’d like to turn your conflict situations into productive challenge, contact hello@peoplepuzzles.co.uk or call us on 0808 164 5826.

What is DiSC?

The theory behind DiSC centres around four different personality traits: Dominance (D), Influence (I), Steadiness (S), and Conscientiousness (C). It’s used to help individuals better understand how their peers might take a different approach to their work and respond differently to situations if they are strong in certain traits.

Jude Owens
Jude Ownes, HR Director.

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