Conflict arises at the individual or team level in varying situations; it’s part of the human story of working together.
In the ghostbuster movies, one of the teams is more difficult to work alongside than the others. Actor Bill Murray portrays the character “Peter Venkman” as having a lack of professional pride in his work, flirtatious, aggressive, and holding a dry sense of humor. In one scene, Peter is testing for sixth sense ability and continually shocks a boy for wrong answers but refuses to zap a woman he flirts with. He even admits his high school classmates voted him as “most likely to become a game show host.”
Ronald Reagan, the 40th US president, stated,
Peace is not the absence of conflict. It is the ability to handle conflict by peaceful means.
The way it’s handled determines whether it acts as a driving force that lifts the team operational experience to a higher level or chokes the team vitality.
The ghostbuster team harnessed Peter Venkman’s aggression to get payment after they removed “Slimer” from the posh hotel. Peter bursts into the reception. - “We came. We saw. We kicked its Ass!” The manager is intimidated by Peter into paying up.
Later during the climax, it's Peter that brings courage to the whole team when they face down the “StayPuft Marshmellow Man.” His use of humor to downplay the seriousness of the situation allows the team to unfreeze and come up with a plan.
Strong personality traits can be harnessed to deliver exceptional outcomes.
Lower productivity occurs when a team has ongoing interpersonal conflict. Communication is sluggish or non-existent between certain people. The invisible handle of help is absent. In high-performing teams, there exists collaborative support that allows team members to move forward with the least amount of friction. Conflict suppresses the morale of the whole team!
The best approach to handling personality clashes is to prevent them from occurring in the first place.
This is so that they get to know each other on a deeper personal level. Organizing team events to release work pressure and to form stronger personal connections. Certain types of events push people to interact in a positive way. I recommend using escape rooms, nights out, sports, Go-Karting, etc.
The team itself forms the expectations around their interactions. Empower the team members to call each other out if someone fails to act according to their commitment. Team working agreements contain items such as respectful communication and shared values.
Bringing everyone together and asking them what is working well, where things could be better, and identifying actions for everyone to try and own, with a planned follow-up session.
This comes down to bringing the parties together with their manager. Talking through the underlying causes of the conflict and sharing the impact on each other and the wider team. Set the ground rules. Listen with an open mind, avoid interrupting and be objective. Have each party paraphrase what the other has said. The focus is on getting agreement on how to resolve the conflict.
If a resolution is not possible, then focus on identifying actions to manage the difference between the parties. Don’t be reticent in pausing the discussion and agreeing on a future date to discuss again. Some conflicts need cool off and reflection periods to find the eventual path to resolution.
It’s really important to air the issue rather than avoid it.
Often, the very act of talking it through is enough to cause it to stop.
It’s important to identify the underlying causes. In many cases, it’s a structural problem. The goals and priorities are not aligned, and differing people/teams have different priorities or directions. The individuals would like to support each other, but they are in a tug-o-war with different departmental goals. Escalate this type of structural conflict to the correct level of leadership in the organization to be resolved. Once all parties agree, communicate to everyone this new alignment and shared goal to end the conflict. This might be a change to a priority or a process.
Find a means to harness conflict into a positive force to up-level productivity. Deal with negative conflict early. Conflict naturally occurs, and mastering how to handle it to deliver positive outcomes is your task. Remember the ghostbuster theme tune, “Who are you gonna to call! your people partner”. Seriously, use the professional guidance of your human resource department if you find yourself out of your depth.
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