A three-part tool for dealing with conflict on your team

A three-part tool for dealing with conflict on your team

Last week I told a story about the power of embracing criticism. Building on that idea, let’s explore how to embrace different kinds of criticism and conflict on your team.

You know the scenario: You’re having a team meeting, and someone is proposing a new idea. Before they get three sentences in, somebody else attacks or dismisses the idea. Suddenly, people are more focused on staking positions and forming allegiances, rather than considering the merits and risks of the proposal itself.

Here’s a three-part tool that works fairly predictably—and sometimes beautifully—in a range of challenging circumstances. Mastering this process will help you acknowledge contributions, minimize defensiveness, and keep things moving.

The process is simple, sometimes challenging, and potentially game-changing.

  • PART 1: Find the value. “What I LOVE about what you’re saying is ______.”
  • PART 2: State your view. “At the same time, ______.”
  • PART 3: Make the invitation. “Will you _______?” There are lots of ways to approach this.

Let’s look at how to use this tool in a few common scenarios.

Dealing with the Doubter. The person who right out of the gate rolls their eyes and says, “This doesn’t make any sense.” Or, “I don’t know why we’re wasting our time with this.” Here’s what you say:

  • PART 1: “What I love about what you’re saying is that I can really hear how much you care about [understanding what’s happening here / making sure that we succeed / using our resources well / etc.].”
  • PART 2: “At the same time, it’s really important for us to be able to explore ideas thoroughly as a team, without ruling them out prematurely.”
  • PART 3: The invitation. “I really value your honesty in sharing your reservations, AND I hope that you’ll stay open and curious as we continue to explore these ideas, so that your perspective makes our decision stronger. Will you do that?”

Dealing with the Expert Kill Joy. You know, the person who says, with stern authority, “That’ll never work.” Or, “We already tried that.” Familiar? Try this:

  • PART 1: “What I love about what you’re saying is that you are really bringing an analytical lens, and that’s one of the key strengths that you are so reliable in offering to this team.”
  • PART 2: “At the same time, we haven’t given this project full consideration yet, and it’s hard to do a more thorough analysis when it sounds like you have already ruled out the possibility.”
  • PART 3: The invitation. “Will you stay engaged in this process—and continue to bring your perspectives on what the risks are—as we look at what this project offers and how we might deal with the risks?”

Dealing with the Impractical Visionary. This is the person who has 8.37 excellent ideas before breakfast, and happily advocates for interesting and cool new projects without considering the team’s current workload, deadlines, or goals.

  • PART 1: “What I love about what you’re saying is that you have such vision for what’s possible, and that has really pushed our team to achieve some really audacious goals.”
  • PART 2: “At the same time, we need to explore the implications of this project more fully.”
  • PART 3: The invitation. “Will you stick with us here and continue to advocate for what you see as really promising, even as we talk about the risks, the trade-offs, and timing of this project?”

Try this thought experiment:

Picture one of your troublesome colleagues and imagine the script of a typical disagreement. Now—stick with me here—picture yourself saying, “What I LOVE about what you’re saying is _____.” And then fill in the blank. Your job is to GENUINELY SEARCH for the thing that you love.

Spoiler alert: You can’t fake this. You can’t bluff, and you can’t bait-and-switch. You can’t say “What I LOVE about what you’re saying is that it isn’t worth dignifying with a response.” Your job isn’t to find the loophole. Your job is to genuinely search for the humanity—the aspirations and fears—of the person who is busy throwing a pesky wrench into your smooth-running works.

And if that LOVE part freaks you out, feels fake, or triggers your Sarcastic Voice, dial it back to LIKE and try again. Baby steps. Just know that you really are aiming for finding something that you authentically like and value. Are you at least a little curious about how this might alter the typical pattern of conflict on your team?

Your turn: How can this three-step approach help you navigate conflict on your team? Where does it work and where does it fall short?


FURTHER READING: If you want to dig more deeply into these ideas, check out these great books:

Anatomy of Peace, by the Arbinger Institute

Crucial Conversations, by Patterson, Grenny, McMillan, and Switzler


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