Have A Nice Conflict
By Tim Scudder, Michael Patterson and Kent Mitchell
(Personal Strengths Publishing, 233 pages, $21.95)
John Doyle is a hard-driving, ambitious sales manager. But he is not getting along with his boss, who is more cautious; nor his staff, whose feelings he ignores at times. Two of his best sales people have left, and the promotion he lusts for has been rejected for the second time in a company where the policy is three strikes and you're out.
That's the setting for the fable Have A Nice Conflict, by three consultants with a California company called Personal Strengths: Tim Scudder, Michael Patterson, and Kent Mitchell. When John sets off in the wake of these reversals to visit a long-time customer, who had been served by the two now-departed sales staff, he is told, "You're quickly running out of soldiers, Lieutenant." The customer refers him to a consultant, Mac Wilson, whose company is called Have A Nice Conflict, who mentors John on how to deal more effectively with people.
Mac (a proxy for the authors) promotes something called Relationship Awareness Theory. At its core is a strengths development inventory, which catalogues the seven colour-coded motivational drives in relationships that we all need to be alert to:
This drive is focused on the protection, growth and welfare of others.
Concern for task accomplishment, and organization of people, money or whatever to achieve desired results.
Concern for assurance that things have been properly thought out, and desire for the maintenance of meaningful order.
Hub (a blend of all colours): Flexible-Cohering
Concern for flexibility, as well as concern for members of the group and the welfare of the group.
Concern for protection, growth and welfare of others through task accomplishment and leadership.
Concern for intelligent assertiveness, justice, leadership, order and fairness in competition.
Concern for affirming and developing self-sufficiency in oneself and others, as well as concern for thoughtful helpfulness with regard for justice.
Some of these drives are composites of the others, and each of us may have a different blend than these exact motivations. But the key point is these drives lead us into conflict: Each of us is trying to do the "right thing" at work according to our motivations, but our "right thing" may be the "wrong thing" to another person.
We feel conflict when we see behaviours that challenge our ways of doing things and threaten our self-worth. "Conflict can be prevented by seeing contentious behaviour merely as a difference of style instead of a direct challenge or threat aimed at annoying you or derailing you," Mac tells John.
For example, John's driving force is Red – assertive and directing. He is quick to seize upon an idea and push it, confident of success. He'll argue strongly for going all-out with a new customer. But his boss is Green – analytic and autonomizing. She wants facts, figures, process – order. She needs to know things are well thought out, and John threatens her self-worth when he wants to push ahead on instinct. He, in turn, feels paralyzed by her cautious ways.
As Mac puts it: "Our strengths may sound like beautiful music to us, but they can come across as too loud or overdone to others."
When motivations collide, self-worth is threatened. The book explains that you go through a three-stage conflict sequence. In the first stage, your attention is focused on yourself, the problem and the other person. As you slip into stage two, the focus shifts to you and the problem – the other person has dropped out of the picture. In the third stage, the focus is solely on self. The book warns that this is the most damaging stage because you have lost sight of the problem and the other person.
The authors catalogue 13 different conflict sequences, depending on your motivational style. Two people in conflict might have different conflict sequences ,and won't necessarily cycle through them at the same time.
But the authors, through their proxy Mac, believe in a nice conflict, and tell us that because people only enter into conflict about things that are important to them, it's a great opportunity to learn what is important to others and thus how to communicate better in the future.
That is what happens In the fable, as John reacts better to workplace situations, impresses his boss and colleagues with his new sensitivity, and wins his coveted promotion. In real life, you may not find it so easy. While the story-telling nature of the book makes the ideas accessible, there are a lot of different motivations and conflict-sequence possibilities, which can be as clear as a sandstorm at times, albeit a colourful one in hues of red, green and blue. But at the core is an interesting viewpoint on conflict that holds potential for helping you.
Imagine yourself onstage in an improv show, when the audience picks the subject of vegetables, and one of the troupe quickly announces, "I feel like a rutabaga." Instead of recoiling or analyzing, as you might at work when somebody proposes a new idea, here you must immediately reply "Yes," and build on the idea, perhaps announcing you are a Boston lettuce, and suggesting a date. Consultant Karen Hough uses that example in The Improvisation Edge (Berrett-Koehler, 165 pages, $22.95), showing how four key rules of improv can help you to be more successful at work, by building better teams.
Special to The Globe and Mail