I recently watched the movie ‘Captain America: Civil War’. The plot of the movie, as the name suggests, is a full-blown ‘civil war’ caused by a conflict between two key characters of the Avengers team – Captain America / Steve Rogers (played by Chris Evans) and Iron Man / Tony Stark (played by Robert Downey Jr.). The source of the conflict is a difference of opinion about the government’s involvement / interference in the way the team operates.
For most viewers it was obvious that both Captain America and Iron Man are right in their stand (they both have strong and right reasons). There is really no right or wrong way; it is just a matter of perspective. They try to resolve the conflict amiably, but that does not work as both characters choose to stand their ground (Thank God for that, else we wouldn’t have a movie to watch!).
The situation is quite like the classic conflict scenarios we face at work. Members of a team need to make a decision and because ‘people are different’ and therefore think differently, the result may be a conflict. And when there is conflict, one of two things happen – We either treat both sides as equal and right, or we treat ourselves as right and the others as wrong.
Let’s go back to Hollywood for a moment. In their first outing (read movie) as Avengers, the superheroes are up against Loki, a demi-god and super-villain, who has his own agenda. Unlike in ‘Civil War’, in ‘Avengers’ we are very clear about which side to root for, because the other side has evil intentions (the end of the human race). The conflict is between ‘Right & Wrong’ (Avengers) and not ‘Right & Right’ (Civil War).
How do you view conflict?
In one of my earlier posts – Who or What, I talked about how our judgement is often biased by who is saying the point, rather than the point itself. Similarly, sometimes in a conflict our judgement is clouded is by who we are up against rather than the topic itself. If it’s Iron Man, fine let’s work things out cordially, but if the other person is perceived as Loki, the situation escalates to a different level.
The Thomas-Kilmann Conflict Mode Instrument (TKI®) does a brilliant job explaining the different conflict handling styles and which to use when, and I am not going to get into that here. What I want to emphasize on is –
Agree to disagree: It’s perfectly natural to have conflicts in a team. Acknowledging this helps remove the awkwardness and confrontation like feeling from the situation. Each member should feel comfortable and be encouraged to share an opinion that may be different from the others.
Focus on the topic: Separate the deed from the doer as you work towards resolving the conflict.
Treat the other person as a sensible and logical individual: While exceptions to this point exist, this is an important ‘assumption’ to make. This ensures that you give due credit to the point of view being shared, however absurd it seems, as you believe the person who is suggesting it must have his/her reasons for saying so.
And most of all – listen and be open to the fact that the other person may just be right in this case.
Conflicts at work may not result in as much of a catastrophe as seen in the superhero movies we talked about, but the damage can be just as bad for the team’s camaraderie and culture. It’s all about how we view conflict.