Conflict – Bring It On

Aaron P. Graft

September 4, 2013

One of the aspects of my job that I enjoy (and honestly wish I had more time for) is sitting down with members of the Triumph team to discuss the future of our organization. When I spend time with Triumph team members, there are two questions that I am asked regularly: (1) Where are we going as a company, and (2) What should I know if I want to be successful here? I would like to tackle the second question in this post.

The bulk of the answer to, “What should I know if I want to be successful here,” can be found in our mission and value statement, which were crafted with a lot of thought and purpose. Within our mission and values, we emphasize the importance of constructive conflict resolution. How we deal with conflict will have a direct impact on a person’s success at Triumph and on the success of Triumph as an organization.

I have a lot of thoughts on conflict resolution, very few of which are original to me. I’ve taken the best of what I have learned from others—what I try to apply daily in my own life—and created a guide to help our team members better handle conflict. I hope that this guide will also be helpful to anyone (which happens to be everyone) who is dealing with conflict.

Triumph Conflict Guide

1. Realize that conflict is inevitable. There are 6 billion people on this planet living in close proximity to one another. Conflict will happen. Our chairman told me several years ago that “all of life is resource allocation and conflict resolution.” In other words, how I utilize my resources of time, money, energy, and attention will inevitably lead to conflict because I live on a planet with others who may not agree with how I allocate my resources. That is why conflict resolution is so important.

2. Do we actually have a conflict? It’s important that we don’t sweat the small stuff and overlook small offenses. How can you determine whether an offense is “small” or “big?” If the answer to all of the following questions is “no,” it’s probably something you should overlook.
a. Is the behavior inconsistent with Triumph’s values and/or mission?
b. Has it permanently damaged a relationship?
c. Is it hurting other people?
d. Is it hurting the offender?

3. See conflict as an opportunity to add value. Handling conflict well can be one of the greatest differentiators of Triumph from our competition. Conflict that is handled well improves relationships, encourages a diversity of views, and strengthens our culture.

4. For conflict to be valuable, it must be handled well. The best decisions generally involve a community of voices giving input. Collaborative input, however, can lead to conflict. Communication is one of the keys to turning conflict into something valuable. Here is how we ask team members to communicate:
a. Appropriate Tone. How you say something is often as important as what you say.
b. Listen. You’ve heard it before, but it bears repeating. Listening matters. Do it well.
c. Speak Carefully and Humbly. Plan your words carefully. Speak as you would like to be spoken to. As the proverb says “a gentle answer turns away wrath, and a harsh word stirs up anger.”
d. Affirm Relationships. People are what make Triumph great. Our words should reflect this.

Here is how NOT to communicate:
a. Withdrawal. Consistently withdrawing from difficult situations makes problems worse. We expect more of our team members than just avoiding conflict.
b. Negative Interpretation. The filter through which you hear what the other person is saying has a major impact on what you hear. Beware of negatively interpreting feedback. Give the other person the benefit of the doubt that their intentions are good. Here is a great way to work on negative interpretation: “I heard you say _______, is that what you meant or did I misunderstand you?”
c. Escalation. Increasing your volume or bringing up unrelated events and perceived offenses from the past does nothing to resolve the issue at hand. It usually just damages the relationship.
d. Invalidation. Communicating that the other person’s thoughts and feelings don’t matter is not an effective way to handle a disagreement.

5. Talk to the person, not about them. The tendency to gossip is an ingrained behavior in many people. Gossip is never acceptable at Triumph. If an offense occurs, don’t tell others – go directly to the person who committed the offense. Talk to him or her in private at an appropriate time.

6. People, including you, will be unreasonable. Even if you do steps 1-5 above perfectly, it won’t always work out. That’s just reality. People, including you, can be unreasonable. You cannot control the response of the other person.

7. Widen the circle when appropriate. If the conflict is not resolved by steps 1-5 above, then widen the circle. Invite others in the chain of command or who are involved in the issue to participate in a meeting. Generally, this would include 2-3 other people.

8. Admit mistakes and ask for forgiveness. There are few things in life that are more powerful than admitting a mistake and asking for forgiveness. As an organization, Triumph has and will continue to make mistakes. When we do, we will own it and do our best to make it right. We expect the same from our team members. Making excuses is an easy way out.

9. We don’t track individual “winners.” The goal for any conflict should not be to “win” (i.e., have your way); the goal is to create value for the individuals involved and the organization as a whole. Triumph’s mission statement requires team members to commit to enterprise success over personal ambition.

Knowing how to properly address conflict is essential to personal and organizational success. It is also a great leadership opportunity – one where people can “lead up,” because the relational capital (respect) that comes from handling conflict well is more valuable than any position on an org chart. Every member of the Triumph team can implement the vision and mission of our company through constructive conflict resolution, and if enough of us do it consistently, we will all share in the success!