Conflict…sometimes the very word can create tension in people. Conflict in and of itself is not bad. The negative connotations that are often associated with conflict are a result of how conflict is managed and how it makes us feel. It tends to be a natural part of human interaction for many reasons. We each approach situations in unique and different ways. Understanding that about the people we work and live with can help minimize conflict.
What are the consequences of conflict? Amazing results can be achieved by having to work through differing opinions of how situations or projects should be approached. It can also shut people down, stalling the forward progress of a project or team. Leadership, team work, and organizational goals are all impacted by conflict. Recently, 60 Minutes aired a report on the band Aerosmith. The members have been playing together for 40 years. Watching the interview and seeing how the band handles conflict showed a very dysfunctional process that has resulted in high costs to the band on many levels. Tension and drama have been a part of this “team” for many years. The conflict was so great early on in the 1980’s that it caused the band to break up. After a number of years, the band members decided to get back together yet conflict continues to be an ongoing part of Aerosmith’s dynamic.
Three years ago during a concert the lead singer of Aerosmith, Steven Tyler, fell off the stage while high on prescription drugs. He injured himself so badly the band’s tour had to be canceled. The other band members were so angry with Tyler that none of them contacted him during his 27 week recovery to see how he was doing. During this time, the band also went so far as to start looking for another lead singer, without involving Tyler in the process. Word of this spread and as a result, American Idol offered Tyler a job as a judge and Tyler accepted, without consulting with the other members of the team he had been a part of for 40 years. His reason for accepting the offer from American Idol, “I was p**sed off at the band for trying to find some other lead singer. I wasn’t sure I wanted to go back to the band after their behaviors.” As a result, the band members were upset at Tyler for moving forward on a decision that impacted the entire band without consulting with them. Can you see the unhealthy dynamic that gets set up due to conflict and the breakdown in communication? Both sides were acting out of anger and a sense of being let down by the other. When the different sides of a conflict take matters into their own hands in order to take control, it can often make a situation worse. Decisions, like those in this story, affect every member of the team and because people are reacting to the underlying conflict, the decisions are often not well thought out. The consequences of rash decisions can impede and delay the necessary, effective results any team or business looks to achieve. How many deals have been lost due to unresolved conflict? An unhealthy conflict dynamic can also cost organizations good talent as people leave for less dysfunctional opportunities. The costs to individuals who do not manage conflict well can also be high as they can be demoted, terminated, or taken out of consideration for advancement.
In the Aerosmith example we see a clear breakdown in leadership and within the team itself due to the ineffective handling of conflict. Each member of this team has their own unique way of approaching situations that arise. Yet, they did not appear to be working together, nor try to understand one another in order to resolve the conflict. Purging themselves about one another on national TV may have a more damaging effect or, it can have the potential to clear the air now that the feelings of the band members have been revealed.
In order to resolve conflict, individuals have to choose to participate in a process that may be very uncomfortable for them, depending on their beliefs about conflict. This process can be supported by a trained facilitator to keep it from disintegrating into personal attacks. It can also be facilitated by a good leader of a team who has invested in his or her own professional development. Recognizing our approach to conflict and having the courage to assess the effectiveness of our approach are the first steps toward being able to productively manage conflict, tension, and drama. Conflict does not have to derail success. Implementing a process to facilitate the management of conflict is critical to good outcomes for organizations, teams, and individuals in achieving the desired level of success.