Dear Liz,

Welcome to our new and improved newsletter! We may look a little different but our goal is the same: Helping you to become an even more effective and successful leader.

Within this newsletter, you will find practical tools and strategies to help you bring out the very best in yourself and the people around you. We hope you like our new look. Enjoy!
Harnessing Conflict: Winning Strategies for Outstanding Leaders and Top-Notch Teams


Great leaders do not fear conflict. Quite to the contrary, they recognize that the most innovative, sophisticated, and well-reasoned ideas emerge when people engage in respectful, if sometimes heated, discourse. These leaders embrace the practice of creative conflict - and they encourage their teams to do the same.


Let's be clear here. Creative conflict is not about showing how much smarter you are than the person to your right. It's not about winning and it's not about diminishing anyone else's ideas. It is about taking the best of what each party brings to the table, refining ideas and approaches, compromising where appropriate, and making the best-informed decisions - based upon a variety of intelligent and well-communicated perspectives.


Just how do today's best leaders encourage their teams to harness the potential of creative conflict? The truth is, it's not all that difficult to do. The key lies in setting and communicating the ground rules for healthy, productive debate. This is something that should be done both in words and in deed. It's about setting expectations, modeling behavior and acknowledging people for getting it right. Here are three steps for developing a conflict-savvy team that gets results:


Tell them what you expect.
Let your team know that you see great value in healthy, productive dialogue and debate. Tell them that you expect them to voice their perspectives, particularly when they diverge from yours or other team members'. Help them to feel safe in sharing their points of view, by ensuring that there will be no negative repercussion for bringing in a contradictory opinion.

One caveat: Ensure that your team understands the difference between engaging in creating conflict and making noise simply to be heard. You should not tolerate unproductive contrariness or poorly developed ideas. On the flip side, genuine, well-constructed arguments should be openly invited.
Show them what it looks like.
Let your team see how you engage in creative conflict with your own peers and business partners. Model the kind of respectful disagreement you'd like to see from them. Where appropriate, let them know how you and your partners ultimately arrive at a decision all can support.

A note of advice: You'll want to align with your peers and business partners around this process. Let them know that you are developing a team culture of creative conflict and that you'd like their help in openly setting the example.

Recognize them for doing it well.
When a healthy round or two of creative conflict brings your team to a great outcome, make sure to acknowledge it. Thank the team and especially the individuals who brought a variety of perspectives to the table. Where appropriate, take the time to deconstruct the process, so that it becomes patently clear where some productive dissent brought the team to a better place. This will help your team to feel recognized for a job well done, while increasing the odds that similar behavior will be seen in future discussions.

There's no doubt that creative conflict is a vital dynamic for any high performing team. Remember to tell your team what you're looking for, show them how it's done, and recognize them for working together to accomplish great things. It's just that simple.
Mastering Conflict: Effective Strategies for Outstanding Leaders and Top-Notch Teams

- In case you missed our last newsletter...

Conflict. It's all around us. At work. At home. On the roads we travel between the two. Conflict is a natural part of the human experience... and yet it presents one of our greatest sources of stress on a day-to-day basis.


When inadequately addressed within your organization, conflict can create substantial barriers to performance. Productivity plummets, as valuable time is squandered ruminating over - and reacting to - perceived slights and injustices. Meetings and discussions become ineffectual. Relationships deteriorate. Decisions are delayed and projects get sidelined, as key stakeholders fail to come to agreement on how to proceed.

On a personal level, employees may respond to the growing stress with symptoms of anxiety, depression, and/or physical distress (headaches, digestive problems, sleep disturbances, etc). Eventually, as people become increasingly disgruntled and disengaged, they will begin to look for greener pastures elsewhere. The organization then faces talent gaps and the loss of vital knowledge and experience.   


As a leader, it's your job to model appropriate conflict mastery for your team. In that vein, here are ten tips to help you become more personally effective in dealing with conflict:


Face the problem.
Ignoring or avoiding it won't help; in fact, it will probably just allow things to fester.

Instead of starting with accusations and assumptions, ask the other party whether he is even aware of the conflict. Calmly and respectfully ask for his perspective and candor.

Resist the temptation to jump in, disagree, defend your position, etc. Instead, be fully attentive (i.e., quiet and focused!) while the other person is speaking. Paraphrase, reflect and clarify what you've heard.

Remain calm.
If you need time to gather yourself, simply postpone the conversation until you're less angry or overwhelmed.

State your position.
Clearly, honestly, respectfully and thoughtfully. 

Identify causes.
Rather than assigning blame, look for the underlying reasons why the conflict has occurred. That will help guide you toward feasible solutions.  

Consider the setting.
Remember, conflict is an emotionally charged dynamic. Be deliberate in where and how you address it. Avoid public settings (in meetings, in the hallway, in the cafeteria, via group email). Instead, try to coordinate a private, face-to-face discussion. (Phone is second best. Email/text are really poor formats for addressing conflict.)

Lighten things up.
A little humor can do wonders to defuse emotionality and defensiveness. Just be sure to make it genuine.

Find areas of agreement.
Try to find the win-win where possible. Remember, a little compromise can go a very long way.

Be proactive.
Brainstorm with the other person about how to anticipate future conflict. If you can see it coming, you can more quickly defuse it... before it becomes destructive.   

All the best,  


Liz Bywater, PhD 
President, Bywater Consulting Group 
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Copyright 2012. Liz Bywater, PhD. Bywater Consulting Group, LLC. All rights reserved.