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For some, dealing with conflict is a simple task.

For others, any conflict triggers a reaction akin to “DANGER! DANGER WILL ROBINSON!!”

(Lost in Space Reference)

Below is a scene from a strategic offsite we facilitated with a consumer software products company:

Sally, the creative person on the team, thrilled that the team is finally making time for a strategic meeting, pipes in with, “You guys, I think I have found a fabulous way for attracting new customers to our product line!”

“Wait a minute! Are you going to change strategies now? That is ridiculous! We already agreed on our target market and our marketing approach. We need to actually test it before we change it…again!” Clyde heatedly retorts. He has a preference for process and implementation.

Uncomfortable with the loud tension, Tom, the leader, interjects, saying “Clyde, I think what Sally is saying is that we have to keep our options open. Why don’t you two take this off-line to work it out? We need to go on.”

(Here’s why we get paid the big bucks!) Susan bluntly interrupts, “Wait a minute. What is your intention in having them take it off-line Tom?”

“Well, it is inefficient use of time.” Tom replies.

“Really? Isn’t this your strategic meeting, and isn’t this a key strategic topic?” Susan, in her frank style, asks.

Accommodator Sabotage

Tom is suffering from the Accommodator Opt-Out Style. He is so uncomfortable with the tension that arises inside of him when conflict is in the room, that he is unwittingly sabotaging the team’s and company’s success by not having these disagreements carry out in the meeting.

What to Do?

Outside of our facilitation of team meetings, we developed a one-on-one coaching relationship with the leader Tom. The main goal was to increase Tom’s ability to effectively handle conflict situations, actually making more of them, increasing the company’s success and bottom line.

For some of you this may seem like a simple task. However, for others, any conflict triggers a red-alert whole body response, broadcasting “DANGER! DANGER WILL ROBINSON!!”

In the coaching, we worked with Tom to increase his ability to stay present and effective in the midst of conflict. This meant working with that red-alert whole body response and fostering something bigger than that, a sense of well-being in his body, while conflict was occurring in the room.

We call this developing Self-in-Presence, (a term borrowed from Ann Weiser Cornell) which is the ability to move to a grounded, calm, and sense of internal safety even when “bad things” are happening outside of yourself that can trigger an internal panic.

It worked.

Not too far into the coaching Tom, was able to start speaking up, saying, “I am uncomfortable that you two are at odds, but I think this passionate discussion is valuable. Carry on.

”Oh, and during that first strategic meeting with us, Tom did re-opened the discussion. What ensued was a passionate and valuable discussion on the company’s marketing strategy, which did alter to include a version of Sally’s idea as a test case. Tom was always well liked by investors and the board, but after developing his own Self-in-Presence, Tom became a more effective CEO and their revenues grew from $11M to $50 in just three years.

CrisMarie Campbell and Susan Clarke

Coaches, Business Consultants, Speakers and Authors of The Beauty of Conflict

CrisMarie and Susan work leaders and teams, couples in business, and professional women.

They help turnaround dysfunctional teams into high performing, cohesive teams who trust each other, deal with differences directly, and have clarity and alignment on their business strategy so they create great results.

Check out their website: Connect with CrisMarie and Susan on LinkedIn. Watch their TEDx Talk: Conflict – Use It, Don’t Defuse It! Find your copy of The Beauty of Conflict: Harnessing Your Team's Competitive Advantage here.

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