Why can’t we all just get along?

That question is a good one if you are assuming that we should all agree all the time.  The fact is that we can agree all the time only if you see things exactly as I do … and if I don’t change my mind!

We not only don’t see things the same way all the time, but we don’t see things the same way most of the time.  We are different individuals with different experiences, values, motivations, perceptions, and ideas.  And, conflict may arise from differences.

Sometimes differences look trivial.  They may be trivial to onlookers, but the differences become conflict when they trigger strong feelings and deep personal needs.

So, how do we get along?  How do we get things done?  How can we work together?

Authorities describe five important concepts about conflict:

  • A conflict is more than a disagreement.  One or more parties feel threaten (rather the threat is real or not).
  • Conflicts continue to fester when they are ignored.  They must be faced to be resolved.
  • Individuals respond to conflicts based on perceptions not necessarily on an objective review of facts.
  • Conflicts trigger strong emotions.  Managing emotions during times of stress is a key to resolving conflict successfully.
  • Resolving conflict is an opportunity for growth.

During the 1970s, two scientists created an instrument that can be used to help us assess our dominant style for addressing conflict—The Thomas Kilmann Instrument.  You can find it on the internet.  Drs. Thomas and Kilmann identified five basic ways of addressing conflict:

Accommodation—surrendering one’s needs with wishes to accommodate another party (I lose, you win).

Avoidance—avoiding or postponing conflict by ignoring it—hoping it will go away.  Avoidance can be a temporary measure to buy time.  In more severe cases, conflict avoidance can involve severing a relationship or leaving a group. (I lose, you lose)

Collaboration—work together to find a mutually beneficial solution.  Trust, respect, or communication must exist among participants for collaboration to occur.  (I win, you win)

Competition—asserting one’s viewpoint at the potential expense of another.  (I win, you lose)

Compromise—bringing the issue into the open and using a third party.  Compromise usually involves some part of the other four means of addressing conflict.

All five of these styles involve assessing how important this issue is to me vs. how important this relationship is to me.   In other words, how important is it to me to assert my view vs. how important is it to me to preserve this relationship through cooperation.

In the past, some people in charge felt they had the power to say and act like:  “It’s my way or the highway!”  And, that type of decision making certainly did not take much time.

Today’s leader, however, listens to what is being said and to what is not being said.  Paying close attention to facts and feelings gives a leader the opportunity to build trust and respect.  Those attributes are the foundation of relationships…and relationships help us to get things done.

One more thing:  learn to agree to disagree It takes two to keep an argument going.  If a conflict is going nowhere with no good in sight, choose to disengage and move on.

If we can’t get along, at least we can move along.

Arnelle Adcock is a partner and president of Brentwood-based Clover Management Group — a team of seasoned professionals who help business owners.  You can reach her at 615-900-0777, aadcock@clovermg.com, or www.clovermg.com.