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  • Writer's pictureSusan & Renée

What Trees Can Teach Us About Conflict

You may remember the Biosphere. It was a scientific experiment that worked to create a perfect environment for plants, animals and humans. A huge glass dome was constructed. Inside, the environment was controlled with purified air, clean water, balanced soil and filtered light. It seemed the perfect place for trees to grow and flourish.

The trees did grow and looked beautiful.

Then something started to happen.

After they reached a certain height, they just toppled over.

The scientists were perplexed. What else could the trees need?

Well, it turned out they needed wind. Wind created stress. The trees needed this push back to grow deep root systems that could support them as they soared toward the sky.

People are the same way. Humans are organisms that need to experience some stress to grow and thrive. Of course, if the stress is too significant it will be harmful. Just like if there were torrential winds it would rip trees up by their roots. But without some level of stress, humans don’t learn the skills of resilience or develop the tools necessary to navigate their social world.

In business, teaching teams to resolve conflicts is like wind for the trees. It allows them to build trust, efficiently communicate and create smoother working relationships resulting in a healthy organizational culture.

Conflict can occur in a variety of places, but one of the more public places it can occur is in team meetings. Learning to effectively navigate meeting conflict is an essential leadership tool. The key word is effectively. Effectively means that everyone comes away from the process feeling respected, heard and valued.

Here are some tips that will help your team grow from the “wind” of conflict:

Understand how you react to conflict. We all react to conflict in different ways. Be sure that you understand how you react. Do you become more aggressive? Do you retreat? Use what you know about your response to seek out professional development tools that will allow you to bring a calm essence to team meetings even in conflict.

Acknowledge the conflict: When tensions mount, acknowledge what everyone can feel in the room. Ignoring it can make people feel more tense, increase the chance of open conflict or shut down communication. Slow the meeting down by checking in with people. Allow some time for people to state what is causing frustration. Bring the meeting back on track by summarizing your understanding, acknowledge any issues that may need to be addressed in the future and reinforce the goals for the current meeting.

Depersonalize: When meetings become heated it can be easy for the conflict to become personal. Leaders need to guide the group back to addressing the topic at hand. Focus on the issue that is causing the upset rather than the attention that may be directed at the person who brought up the issue.

Focus on problem solving: Encourage attendees to provide objective information. Ask for specific examples and suggestions. Point out areas of agreement and things that have worked in the past. Continually focus the group on problem solving rather than just voicing frustrations.

Be sure you are listening: Leaders are human and when conflict arises, leaders can get focused on getting out of conflict and moving forward rather than really listening to what is going on. Taking notes or repeating back to the person your understanding can help improve your ability to listen during conflict.

Follow up: There are times when you can't resolve a situation in one meeting or you table an issue to get the meeting back on track. Checking in after a tense meeting can be a useful tool. Even if a coworker feels there has been resolution, the short time that it took to check in helps build a healthy team culture where people feel valued.

Involve HR, when necessary: Remember if you have a Human Resources Department it is there to support you. If a conflict can’t be resolved or you need guidance on how to handle it, use their expertise to chart a way forward.

Resolving workplace conflicts requires understanding and respecting each other’s differing viewpoints. When teams are comfortable pushing back on one another the roots of their relationships strengthen and the whole organization grows more productive.

Photo from Unsplash

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