This is how to encourage constructive conflict while collaborating

A group of people informally sitting around a table having a discussion

Constructive positive dissent if managed well can be very beneficial in finding a resolution to a conflict. The key is to encourage constructive dissent leading towards a collaborative process. To much dissent is not healthy. It can become negative. Not enough dissent and good ideas will never rise to the surface. This article looks at how to promote the right amount of constructive dissent to have team members promote effective collaboration whether in a meeting or in a negotiation.

 

Good negotiations can be even better

 

In negotiations that have gone well. It is quite possible to not bring up additional interests for fear of sabotaging the current resolution. However, if we are encouraged to bring up other issues and interests this can lead to potentially an even better solution. Having a diversity of opinions can go a long way towards seeing alternatives from various perspectives.  By circling back at the end to see there may be any other thoughts or concerns before concluding may be a way of making sure all are encouraged to provide further observations and comments. It can’t hurt and it surely could help.

Making a point of having diverse views and encouraging analysis and dialogue between parties can significantly enhance ideas and results.

On the other hand, how they are raised, when they are raised and, in some instances, who raises the ideas can cause negative conflict. This negative conflict can be damaging, distracting and unconstructive. Realizing this it is good to be proactive and to try and minimize negative conflict.

 

The key to constructive conflict

 

The key to constructive conflict is to raise issues, facts, interests, goals and process concerns when the time is right.  This takes some careful thought. The underlying theme needs to be to

be tough on the problem and gentle on the people.

This works well. We need to be there to help and to be focused on the problem. However, when the focus is on being hard on the people, personality differences, and making it personal this can have a very negative impact on the process. If the situation turns negative, sharing stops, open interaction is stifled, and it is very hard to return to positive constructive dissent. Knowing this it is very important for leadership to manage the process well and redirect or reframe discussion to stay focused on the problem.

 

Consider the NIP model

 

By listening effectively and asking open ended questions to further understand emotions and empathize it may be possible to facilitate a broader discussion. For example, if you observe frustration, irritation or negative body or facial expressions, a negative tone, or seemingly attacking language, it is important to identify what you are feeling and ask questions. For example,

“You seem frustrated…”

“You look like you are concerned…”

And then follow up with

“Tell me more…”

“What happened next…”

And these types of inquisitive statements or questions to focus on the underlying concerns of the problem.

What you have done is use the first two steps of the NIP model.

NIP stands for Notice feeling(s), Investigate further and Problem solve.

The first two statements above notice the feelings. “You seem frustrated”, “You look like your concerned”. The next two statements demonstrate investigation from those feelings. “Tell me more”, What happened next?” Once you have noticed and acknowledged the feeling and investigate what happened it may be possible to work collectively to address the problem collaboratively.

 

Three constructive steps to promote collaboration

 

                Planning

 

When ever possible, ask what could go wrong? Where or when might there be disagreements? Be proactive by taking steps to head off the problem before it starts. At the start of the session consider making up ground rules with input from others. Be sure and either pull out ideas from participants by questioning, or suggest some specific ground rules. For example, “one person speaks at a time”, “everyone will remain respectful and professional”.  Ask others for their ideas too. Be inclusive from the beginning.

Promote ethical leadership. You need to consider profit, reciprocity (the golden rule) towards one another and legacy (how you will be remembered as part of this process).

Promote open discussion regarding the problem. Encourage dialogue. Dig deeper to uncover hidden interests. Listen actively without judgment to encourage open discussion. Ask open ended questions to discover more.

Consider addressing concerns that could sabotage the process ahead of time and seek out private discussions with those parties. Be proactive. You want to go into the negotiation or discussions with as much of a united approach as possible. Being proactive ahead of time can be seen as a sign of strength. Try and gain consensus on issues ahead of time. This can prove invaluable later.

 

                Have a devil’s advocate

 

In meeting discussions assign someone to play the devil’s advocate. This person’s role is to bring up issues, ideas and perspectives that could undermine the discussion. This prevents group think and is a way to constructively bring up contrarian thought by design.

The idea is to bring up perspectives that were unknown, unthought of or that may promote disagreements in order to help everyone make better decisions.

By assigning someone this role in a meeting, this can be very constructive.

Similarly, when preparing for a negotiation having someone take contrarian perspective while planning for a negotiation, may help uncover unknown or unsuspecting issues, facts or interests that otherwise may not have been considered. Have a devil’s advocate somewhere along the line with negotiation planning can be very helpful too.

 

                Promote sharing reasoning for positions

 

Positions are demands, statements of what someone says they will or will not do focusing on one party’s solution. Behind every position is at least one interest. Interests uncover underlying needs, concerns, hopes or fears.

The above commentary focused on emotions and feelings with the heart. Here the focus is on the logic and rationale to better understand the motives behind the interests.

By exploring these interests logically, the team may be able to make more informed decision. Data helps drive the decision making. Behind the logic assumptions were made. Digging deeper to understand the underlying assumptions can lead to some very interesting insights.            When this happens, it may be possible explore new and unforeseen alternatives. It also gives participants a way to develop hybrid solutions. That is combinations of ideas that take into account additional perspectives and insights unforeseen by a given participant acting alone.

 

Summary

 

Good negotiations and meeting can be even better with planned constructive conflict. This constructive approach stays focused on being tough on the problem and gentle on the people. If personal attacks arise or there is a perception of frustration or irritation by participants apply the NIP model. That is apply the NIP model by Noticing feelings, Investigating further and Problem solving the concerns together. Be proactive and try to anticipate what negative concerns may arise. Consider contacting participants ahead of time to try and diffuse the situation. Have a devil’s advocate play the part of an antagonist to raise issues and concerns. The devil’s advocate can make everyone better. Finally, promote digging deeper to gain additional understanding of the logic, assumptions and underlying interests of various positions. This may very well lead to hybrid solutions that would not have developed without this initiative.

If you would like read more about this topic check out this article from the Harvard Program on Negotiations

 

About the author

 

Mike is a mediator/negotiator/facilitator and professional speaker that addresses business valuation issues with the IRS and other issues for clients as a conflict resolution expert. You may contact Mike directly at mg@mikegreg.com and at (651) 633-5311. Mike has written 11 books including, The Servant Manager, Business Valuations and the IRS and Peaceful Resolutions that you may find helpful. [Michael Gregory, ASA, CVA, NSA, MBA, Qualified Mediator with the Minnesota Supreme Court]