Want to know you are moving in the right direction?
Need an answer fast?
Stuck on a point that you cannot get past?
Need to explore a new path?
Need to hone your thinking?
Pick a fight!
The quickest way to do this is to work with someone whose job it is to prove you wrong, whose aim is to fight tooth and nail on every point and offer counter arguments to everything that you propose. The old saying “to lock horns with someone” is a great way of looking at this.
Working with someone who is focused on finding what is wrong with our work sounds crazy! Its hard because they are not who we want to work with, we want to work with people like us, not against us. It pushes us out of our comfort zone and makes us feel on edge, maybe even a bit defensive. But we need to have the counter arguments so that we think through our premise and approaches more effectively. The best thing about working with others is that they are NOT you….they think, feel, act differently.
We need to grow partnerships in thinking. And we need thinking partners who are not echo chambers. So we need to learn to treat conflict as thinking.
Treat conflict as collaboration on steroids!
Step 1 – Don’t be afraid of conflict. Treat conflict as a skill, see it as thinking and get really good at it. Think about any professional at the pinnacle of their career, they have spent their lives honing their skill, often times “sparing” with their partners. The best analogy I can see is the knights of old who learned how to be the best by fighting with each other, constantly!
Step 2 – Have a shared and common goal that you are exploring, agree the outcome that you are trying to achieve, but allow people to challenge the mental path you are taking. Establish a passionate devotion to the outcome, not the method to achieve it and your conflict will show you other ways to get there, other techniques to use and other skills to bring to the table.
Step 3 – Be prepared to change your mind and your opinions. You need to react and reflect on the cut and thrust of your opponent’s approaches and arguments. Factoring in other influences or factors that they considered, saw, and used that you may have not noticed. Changing your approach and methods based on what they are throwing at you, exposing both your flaws and your strengths. Imagine you are like Errol Flynn in an old movie, moving around the environment, using everything to hand to win your point.
Step 4 – Establish the safe collaboration environment where conflict is expected and managed safely. Think about your behaviours when challenged and the behaviours of others and then think about how you can establish safe collaboration topics and safe collaboration approaches. Think of the rules of sparing such as establishing a “a safe word” or a signal for disengaging when you need to stop. Also pick your tools. One of my most favourite sparing environments is in front of a whiteboard, each of us with a marker in our hands, thrashing it out….arrows, lines, crossing out things, pointing things out to each other….it’s brilliant!
Step 5 – Honour and support your opponent. Sparring partners train together, put in hours of effort and devotion to the outcome, flog each other around the ring or sparing ground, then hug or bow to each other at the end. Make sure you are cognisant of how they are acting and feeling and make sure you keep them in the safe zone as well as keeping yourself there too. The fight should always be about the content, not the participants. It should never get personal and never be an attack against a fundamental value, but always about the intellectual problem.
Step 6 – Pick your battles. I know in my team sometimes there are topics that people hold very dear and they don’t want to collaborate on them, I have some of those too. I also know that sometimes there is not the right time or environment for collaboration. But then, sometimes, when it is planned and set up, we have the most amazing collaborative sessions – it’s rough and tumble and everyone says their honest opinions and sometimes it can be harsh on the original premise (which usually is demolished) but the outcome is always amazing (or “Wonderment” as one of my team calls it).
Setting up the collaborative conflict is very important, nurturing it and then calling out the value is vital. Knowing that it is ok to challenge and be challenged, and that we can still be friends afterwards is an incredibly rewarding way of working.