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Impossible? Care, curiosity and change

Mike Horne
June 24, 2022
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Confronting the impossible at work often seems just that, impossible. When conflict parks at the "Impossible Station," achievement and progress stall. Left unchecked, unresolved conflict diminishes personal effectiveness and risks organizational growth. If you're dissatisfied with where you've arrived or where you're headed, consider these approaches to improving individual and organizational effectiveness.

Assess, Don't Regress. Every interpersonal and intergroup conflict bears your fingerprints. You broadcast your intentions through action or by doing nothing at all.  Social scientists Ken Thomas and Ralph Kilmann identified that our responses to conflict are based on the degrees to which we are assertive and cooperative. While we cannot assign virtue to all intents, growth leaders promote group and organizational conditions for engagement and progress. If your approaches to conflict resolution aren't producing the results you need, get some feedback. Your best sources of feedback are often right around you.

Develop Style and Goal Alternatives. Individuals and groups often get stuck because of a failure to articulate or develop alternatives. Choices are constrained by either-or thinking. Influential leaders introduce possibilities and what-if thinking. When coaches work with others on improvement strategies, the best will help clients develop "tests" of new behaviors. Practicing alternative behaviors develops the additional capacity to be effective in the most trying circumstances and conditions. Those adopting one-way paths forward do so because they have adequately developed alignment and energy for achievement and progress.

Get Out of your Head. "If I would only do this or that" or "If I could try" or fine stepping stones to development and change. But, they are only stepping stones. Real progress demands experimentation and effort, moving from idea to action that contributes to achievement. Often, change strategies remain untested, underscoring the anxiety and cost of changing. If you have any doubts about your new plans, focus on what everyone has in common in organizational life: customers. Success begins with your effort.

Turn Up the Friendly. Facts, and more facts. We base our decisions on facts. While facts contribute to decision-making, many underestimate the significance of feelings. When we're tired, anxious, apathetic, or even excited, our feelings and emotions often rule our decisions. Childhood memories and our experiences with authority often set up lifetime patterns in our approaches to resolving conflict. Conflicts stay unresolved when we are bitter and unwilling to change. We're left to deal with current outcomes when we can't even imagine a different relationship or future. You make a difference with unresolved conflict when you seek to understand and when you articulate your wants and needs. When you're not approachable or accessible, unresolved conflict festers and diminishes productivity and profitability.

Improve, and Improve Again. A bias for thoughtful action is foundational to managerial and organizational success. You demonstrate a preference for intelligent action when you take an interest in others and their challenges and successes. You learn from others, acknowledging that your expertise and experience are only partial contributors to career success. Understanding and developing the ability to learn is essential to career growth as fuel to movement. The achievement of one goal is often the pathway to success on the next goal if repetition does not replace learning.

Disrupting the status quo in organizational life is difficult work. Barriers exist at nearly every turn. Real progress is made evident by leaders who demonstrate care and curiosity. These two elements – care and curiosity – determine many outcomes, so if you're unhappy with where things stand today, show that you care by asking a question and sharing insight. When someone says, "I don't care," ask, "What if you did care?" Progress is possible when we choose to care and act beyond self-interest.

What helps you or your team to make progress through unresolved conflict? Join the conversation when you share a comment, insight, observation, or question!

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