Ready to Turn Conflict Into Compassionate Accountability?

If you are like me, you dislike conflict. Perhaps you even hate it. I know few people that revel in it and those that do tend to be lifelong instigators. Do you know a few? I do! Over the years I have been surprised to learn how many active leaders hate conflict. Even some people that I admire have admitted in confidence that they resent conflict. They tend to put it off or send in someone else to do their “dirty work” to resolve conflict. Even though I detest conflict, I am always the first one to jump in and try to soothe things over and quell tempers. Intervening is well worth the stress of conflict.

As a manager, I have experienced my share of employee conflict and drama. I remember years ago when two of my highest sales performers were in a fight in the break room. They were ready to come to blows because they both had volatile personalities and rubbed one another the wrong way. Naturally, I jumped in and separated them in the nick of time. We were able to eventually have a conversation where we agreed on some key points. They never became friends and merely tolerated each other but their conflicts rarely interfered with our team dynamics or success.

Not long ago I worked with a team of interesting personalities with differing agendas. My role this time was different. I was part of the team, not in the team leadership role. In fact, there was clearly no leadership direction on the team at the time because our "leader" was too busy micromanaging and cleaning up after our client. I watched the team drama from the side. Depending on who was present my team members played a different role. For instance, when our boss or our client was there, one member, in particular, played the role of "saving the world" or had all the answers complete with political correctness. Conversely, she turned on our manager and client the minute they left the room and urged others to chime in.  It was literally like watching a soap opera drama on a daily basis.

 I recently read Conflict without Casualties A Field Guide for Leadership with Compassionate Accountability by Nate Regier Ph.D. Immediately the dynamics of my employee/team conflicts jumped back into my head and played like a motion picture. Nate shares that conflict doesn’t need to be a dirty word. It shouldn't be ignored, and we should snap to attention when it rears up. Conflict without Casualties shows us how conflict should be viewed as a creative force because there is energy behind it.

Nate asserts how conflict can be turned around and utilized to grow innovation, build trust, and further engage people. His views will change your perspective on conflict, people, and how it can be used to make us more accountable. Where was Nate when I found myself in some adverse situations? I could have used his advice on fighting drama as a result of people struggling against others, or themselves, without any thought as to how they come across or impact others.

Conflict without Casualties is a practical toolkit for managing conflict. One factor that jumped out at me was when Nate introduced the nuances of workplace drama through the “Drama Triangle” offered by Dr. Stephen Karpman. It illustrates the roles that people take on in the conflict process. People may play the victim, rescuer, or persecutor, none of which are healthy. The Drama Triangle is depicted above and may help you understand the dynamics of the roles people jump into. I am a visual person, and the triangle helped me to understand where people fit into unique roles at during conflict and how they switch roles depending on the situation. Yes, I was quickly able to label my cast of characters from previous drama encounters.

Here is a synopsis of our characters. Perhaps you have found yourself playing one of these roles?

·         Victim: Victims avoid conflict, try to hide in the background or play it safe, the second guess themselves, or just know something bad is coming down the pipeline. Their time in a role seems to protect them, or they have tenure that protects them. They may avoid everything.

·         Rescuer: Rescuers love to breed a culture of rescuing. They are frequently promoted because they are responsible and hard working. As leaders, they probably never learned how to empower others and prefer to be indispensable experts with all the answers.

·         Persecutor: Persecutors know that fear, guilt, or intimidation work. They love the feeling of power. People tend to be afraid of them, and they know it. No one will stand up to them, so they don't need to be accountable. These drama peeps are my worst nightmare!

Since learning about the Drama Triangle, I admit that when I encounter conflict, I quickly peg a role onto those involved. It assists me in identifying issues and motives. By knowing the role that someone may be playing I better understand how they feel, where they are coming from, and even understand a bit more about their motives. This triangle only scratches the surface of conflict. It’s a starting point.  Conflict without Casualties offers in-depth insight regarding not just how to manage conflict but leading with compassion and accountability. Nate offers an alternative of Dr. Stephen Karpman’s Drama Triangle called the Compassion Triangle. This triangle provides counterparts to our Drama Triangle of persistence, openness, and resourcefulness. These skills can be used in the healthy conflict, and Nate shows us how each of these competencies has strategies to "lean into conflict and out of drama."

Like death, none of us can escape conflict. It's around every corner and in every organization. What you can do is learn how to identify conflict and the roles that people take on. Once you understand this, you are on your way to turning negatives into actual conflict which holds others accountable, and you work together through conflict. We all need to bring some compassion and understanding into resolving conflict with openness, resourcefulness, and persistence.