Red Zone/Blue Zone. Part 1
Life can be dangerous. As we negotiate life’s waters, most people would implicate conflict as the top culprit that makes life such a challenge – conflict in marriage, in employment, in communities, in nations, and between nations.
Much of living is also about leadership, and leadership is about conflict. Oh, you might say, I’m not a leader. But we would argue that you are – in your families, in your friendships, in your neighborhoods, in any of your close associations. Leadership is not so much about formal roles but about activities where we must stand up and take responsibility.
Others of you who are reading this book are in formal positions of leadership. You undoubtedly face conflict challenges daily in one form or another. Because we coach many leaders across the organizational spectrum, we know that a significant amount of a leader’s time is caught up in conflict. But that’s not all bad, at least it doesn’t have to be all bad. The healthiest organizations are loaded with conflict, as are the least healthy. It’s not the conflict per se, it’s the very nature of that conflict that counts.
Conflict: Friend or Foe?
Most people run from conflict. And yet conflict has a niggling habit of continually showing up, even though every possible measure is taken to prevent it. We have a different slant on conflict:
You can’t escape conflict. The issues on which we can disagree are endless.
Conflict isn’t really the problem. The problem is how people relate to one another when they are in conflict. Conflict is not only NOT a bad thing, it’s a good thing, and a necessary thing:
The purpose of this appendix is to guide readers through three simple principles that are indispensable to be successful in life.
The process in this appendix will be a great starting point for transforming your outlook on yourself and conflict. This process is designed to provide you with the tools you need to bring about transformation.
You certainly may go through this section by yourself. However, we have found it to be very beneficial to assemble a group to work through the exercises together. And the most effective groups to work with are those in which you are already a member – at work, in the community, in your faith community, etc. If you decide to do this with a group, make sure that all participants have read through the book, Naked Conflict, prior to beginning.
Make sure that you document the key issues, questions, and concerns that emerged during your own time working through the appendix, or in your group discussion. Then take a few minutes to discuss the following questions:
When all is said and done, how will we know that this process has been effective? As an individual, list what my two or three desired outcomes will be. As a group, reach consensus on the top two or three desired outcomes.
Based on the desired outcomes, what do I/we believe to be our most critical issues or concerns to address? As a group, reach consensus on the top four or five most critical issues.
Of the identified issues, which of those do I/we anticipate will be the most difficult one to tackle? Why?
Attitudes Toward Conflict
Let’s begin with the attitudes each of us has toward conflict. If we have the wrong attitude toward conflict, it will be impossible to face the emerging conflicts within our lives and deal with them effectively.
We realize that the word conflict is loaded emotionally. Many people associate conflict with destructive images, of people shouting at one another, of gangs shooting at each other, of countries bombing one another. Certainly those are conflicted situations. But conflict, at its core, involves disagreement, differing ideas and opinions, discrepant evaluations and judgments. People are different. Each person walking this earth has a different slant on things, different ways of seeing what is unfolding, different strategies for dealing with all the situations life throws at us.
Issues regarding conflict are confusing. Is conflict good, or bad? How do I manage it? Let’s put one proposition on the table right up front: Conflict is necessary and beneficial, at least conflict that is focused properly (i.e. the Blue Zone which we will discuss later). As conflict strays away from issues, and accesses personal stories (i.e. the Red Zone), conflict becomes unmanageable and destructive.
Begin with these questions for the leadership team:
Where, in the past, have you thought conflict primarily resided – In others? Between yourself and others? Within yourself?
Given where you thought the conflict resided, what has been your usual course of action when conflict loomed and unfolded?
Consider the conflicts that have troubled your leadership team in the past. When were conflicts handled poorly? List the elements that led to a poor handling of conflict for your team.
Has there been a general style, an acceptable leadership team style, of dealing with conflict in the past? e.g. As a team, we usually avoid conflict at all costs. Or, we usually end up in the senior leader’s office and she decides who is to blame.
Do we as a leadership team have the capacity to raise difficult issues without becoming adversarial?
What usually occurs to the team when difficult issues arise?
What usually happens to you personally when difficult issues arise?
What is your influence on the team, and vice versa as these difficult situations are unfolding (e.g. The team seeks to dive into the situation, which raises my anxiety even higher, and I end up distracting the team)?
*photo courtesy of Wynand Van Poortvliet