Members of an effective team bring passion to their work. That passion results is strong points of view and contributes to the intensity of differences. When the differences are experienced as incompatible, which at times is inevitable, conflict is born.
Effective team members therefore require an interpersonal tolerance to differences and a capacity to engage in conflict for the purpose of coming to the best synthesis of the variety of ideas and practices being offered up. In entering the fire together, team members will sometimes ‘bruise’ each other.
As well as being able to constructively engage in conflict over differences, the members of the team must be capable of repairing the little wounds that will be inflicted upon them. In this regard, team relationships are like spousal relationships. Hurting each other is part of the journey. And, repair practices are essential for sustaining ongoing growth. On teams, constructive conflict is understood to serve a higher purpose – the results that the team strives to achieve.
Here is a method and some restorative questions that can serve to get a relationship repair conversation going.
The Relationship Repair Method
The two team members involved, one at a time, answer the first question in a complete and uninterrupted manner. No comments or questions allowed while the other person is speaking. Just listen. If you think you will forget something you need to say, jot it down for later.
When each has finished his answer uninterrupted, the other team member summarizes what she or he has heard in order to confirm and communicate an initial level of understanding.
The two then carry on a dialogue about what they have heard and what they have learned. There has to be some acceptance of different versions of what happened.
When they have completed this process with the first question, they carry on in the same manner with the second and third questions. One may find that responding to the three questions in this way leads to a resolution. If not, the method will often lead to the conversation that needs to happen. Here are the three questions:
1. What happened? (Refers to events relevant to the bruise being created)
2. What factors that contributed to the difficulties were outside the control of both of you?
3. How were you impacted by what happened?
Often when I am teaching, after suggesting a method to address a situation, a participant will ask, “What if that doesn’t work?”
Human relationships are complex. Nothing works all the time, but there are also few errors that you can’t recover from. In many situations you will find yourself with a better understanding and a better way to work together after such a dialogue. Remember, this relationship repair method is directed towards the small and moderate ‘bruises’, not the worst conflicts!
I will say something about severe interpersonal conflict at work next time.