This week, we continue our extended look at different behavioral responses for managing conflict. Remember that not all conflict is “bad” since conflict is also called “debate” and allows teams to find new solutions to old problems, allows people to see things from a new perspective, and when the conflict is resolved, team members will show greater trust in each other. In a previous posts, we’ve looked at the Competing Style (high assertiveness, low cooperativeness) and this week we’ll look in more depth at the Collaborating Style of conflict management.
Normally, when I think of collaborating, I tend to think of the behavior in scientific terms: a chemist working with an engineer to develop and implement a new process in a manufacturing facility. But in terms of conflict management (and believe me the chemist and engineer will have conflict!), the term Collaborating means when a person is concerned about fully satisfying both sides of an issue. It is characterized by both high assertiveness and high cooperativeness.
Collaborating skills will involve a good ability to listen (not talk), an ability to confront others in a non-threatening manner (perhaps using appropriate humor to lighten the situation), an ability to analyze the inputs, and an ability to identify the concerns of everyone involved. Using a collaborative style to manage conflict will mean digging into an issue to identify underlying concerns of all involved and finding an alternative that responds to all of these concerns.
Compared to the Competing Behavior Mode, which we looked at last week, the Collaborating Style appears to be a panacea for problem-solving. However, an over-dependence on the Collaborating mode can lead to the team spending too much time on trivial matters. Is it really significant that the opinions of the whole team should be voiced, heard, voted on in order to determine the font size used in the final safety report? People that depend too much on the collaborative style also find that they experience diffused responsibility, no one on the team accepts responsibility, including, perhaps, even the team leader. In this case, the stronger team members using a Competing Behavior may take advantage of the team and take decision making authority away from the team. Finally, with the churn of so many decisions and everyone’s voice being heard on every matter from trivial to significant, team members will feel their time is usurped and will express concerns of work overload.
On the other hand, failing to use the collaborative style in conflict management situations can deprive the group of a mutual gain. Often, in New Product Development, the discussion of different possible solutions is as valuable as the actual solution itself. If the team leader fails to poll the team members for their deeper involvement, the development effort can suffer a loss of innovation. Additionally, the group may show both a lack of empowerment and a lack of commitment.
Finally, just as with the Competing Style, there are very appropriate times in which to employ the Collaborating Style. When searching for an integrative, cross-functional solution, the Collaborating Mode offers learning, merging perspectives, gaining commitment, and relationship-building.
I hope that these blog posts are giving you insight to the different types of behavior modes people use when encountering conflict. I hope that you are also gaining insight to the predominant type of behavior you use when conflict arises. Remembering that not all conflict is “bad”, perhaps you can commit this week to noting when you should be using the Collaborative Style. And, if collaboration is your dominant conflict management mode, commit this week to trying the competing behavior in an appropriate situation when you’ve relied upon collaboration previously.
originally posted 29 July 2010
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