Creating harmony from discord

TSS-ConflictHow do you deal with conflict on your team? Particularly if the team seems to be distracted from its vision? Or if it threatens the progress of an initiative or even of the organization itself? This is a problem we all face on occasion, and when we are initiating change of any kind, it can put a new initiative on life support.

I just finished reading Dana Perino’s book And the Good News Is … Lessons and Advice from the Bright Side. I am not readily drawn to biographies of celebrities, but this book caught my eye for several reasons (no, one of them was not Dana’s picture on the cover). The last section, where she gives favorite advice and shares life lessons is worth the price of the book.

As George W. Bush’s last Press Secretary, Ms. Perino was privy to many significant events. One event that caught my attention was an account of a presidential visit to Israel to help produce a peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinians. Bush met with both Peres and Abbas in order to develop this.

At a state dinner hosted by Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, Bush showed his strong side when it was his turn to speak. I summarize Dana’s words: “The President said, ‘Thank you, Mr. Prime Minister. We are honored to be here. The relationship between Israel and the United States has never been stronger. And we have an opportunity here to ensure security for your citizens through decisions we have before us,’ he said and then paused as he looked around the room. ‘But I’m telling you right now— if there’s anyone sitting at this table that is waiting in the tall grass with plans to attack this good man’—pointing at Olmert— ‘as soon as he makes a tough decision, please tell me now. Because I am the President of the United States of America, and I will not waste my country’s capital on you if you aren’t serious.’”[1]

There was silence, then “the Israelis started shifting in their seats after the President’s remarks and they murmured, ‘Oh no, no, no, there are no problems here, nothing to see, let’s move along.’”

President Bush followed up with a question: “Tell you what— I’d like to hear more about all of you. Who here was born in Israel?” Only one cabinet official raised her hand. The President then asked, “Well, what are your stories— how did your families come here?”

They went around the table and told their stories. The atmosphere changed as the Israeli leaders were reminded of their common ground, and even discovered ties with each other that they were not aware of. Bush allowed this to progress, and when the conversation began to die down, he said, “I had a feeling you all may have forgotten why you were here in the first place. Thank you for having us. Good night.”

Later on, Dana asked how he knew what was going on. He said that “based on his observations and his gut instinct, he believed they’d become so wrapped up in the daily politics that they’d lost sight of the overall goal of signing a peace agreement. He had a feeling that they’d just stopped talking to one another, so he decided to take a chance to get them to start seeing themselves as allies for a common cause, rather than as individuals fighting their own political battles.”

To me, this is a powerful lesson. In any team situation, be it at work, recreation, or even in our marriages, it is beneficial to remember what brought you there.

Why are you serving on that committee?

Why did you apply for that job?

What was it that first attracted you to your spouse or significant other?

Have you forgotten “your story”?

As you deal with conflict on your teams, is your perspective based on your common goal?

Do you have the courage to follow your gut instincts in developing unity?

Can you look beyond the initiative to see what the real source of conflict is, and then address it appropriately?

Do you feel empowered, or have you been empowered to stand in a position of strength to remedy these conflicts? If not, do you have the courage to stand up for unity?

Of course, differing opinions will benefit the team–to a point. That diversity stimulates creative thought and productivity. But when you come to a divisive moment, or reach a sticking point, then you must remind the dissenters that you are allies fighting for a common cause, and not just individuals fighting your own personal battles.

There is no simple answer to resolving conflict on your team. But it is often helpful to see how other leaders have handled challenging situations.

A leader looks to the example of other leaders.

[1] Perino, Dana (2015-04-21). And the Good News Is…: Lessons and Advice from the Bright Side (Kindle Locations 1488-1491). Pp. 111-113 Grand Central Publishing. Kindle Edition. Additional quotes also from these pages..