What if conflict wasn’t to be avoided, but embraced? Cultivating an openness to conflict with your product team just might be your secret to unlocking your team’s best new ideas.
In my work as a facilitator, navigating complex interpersonal dynamics is part and parcel of the job—and conflict is something I have come to expect. Having that expectation goes a long way in relieving the pressure to move from conflict to consensus quickly.
The natural instinct is to conclude or resolve conflict quickly, but it is not always the best approach for your team.
Successful product teams are made up of people with diverse perspectives, and this convergence is not only necessary, but magic. Just think of the variety of job titles alone:
- Designer / Creative
- Developer / Tech
Building great things means bringing together people with distinct skill sets, perspectives, and personalities. It’s important to expect this diversity and recognize its value.
The good news is that the real alchemy occurs when people with differing perspectives and ideas come together. To tap into that power, team members need to be open to what others have to say. Cultivating a culture of openness with your team is key.
As a product manager, part of your job is to help people work through challenges, make choices, set direction, and move together. Another big part of your job is creating a team culture that allows people to bring their best thinking to the team and work to collaboratively define solutions. Spending time in mindful conflict, rather than rushing to resolution, may become your new unfair advantage—if you know how to do it well.
Navigate Conflict With Confidence
Here are my recommendations for making the most out of conflict and using this inevitable experience into something that can be used to your advantage.
Befriending conflict vs. avoiding it
Conflict will inevitably arise, so it is important to acknowledge and expect it. Adopting the inner monologue of,
Hello conflict, I've been expecting you,
...instead of "What the heck are you doing here?!" can help alleviate the frustration that conflict often brings.
Knowing that conflict is bound to occur and sharing this sentiment with your team can help diffuse tension from the start. This creates a welcoming and calming energy in the shared space, which can reduce some of the unhelpful effects that conflict typically has on our minds.
Focus on common goals
When conflict arises, it can feel disorienting. That's why it helps to focus on the common goals that the group is working toward. Referring back to your North Star reminds the team why they are working together in the first place and can be a good first step in addressing conflict.
Reframe conflict as an opportunity for exploration
Instead of rushing towards a resolution when conflict arises, see it as an opportunity for exploration. People with different perspectives can benefit from sharing with one another and exploring both sides of the seemingly disruptive issue or point of tension. Encourage teammates to express their thoughts and ideas with the intention of understanding one another first. Validate the importance of unique perspectives. Temporarily suspend the desire to reach a shared solution and encourage the team to do the same (although eventually, you will need to reach a path forward).
When we relax into the space of conflict, we discover new ideas that cannot emerge if we are solely focused on making peace or reaching consensus. Spending time exploring the space of conflict can offer new and innovative ways of solving the problem at hand or advancing toward common goals. Getting comfortable with the natural discomfort that arises during conflict is key to turning it into an opportunity rather than something to move past quickly. A relaxed mindset will also create space to consider new ideas.
Disagree and commit
After spending time in a state of disagreement, you will still need your team to commit to a path forward. Accept that not everyone will be happy all the time. Let go of the need to please all the parties involved, as it can alleviate the stress of leading the team. However, if someone strongly disagrees and is not willing to commit to the path forward, you may need to spend more time exploring together.
I often tell teams that I would rather spend time in the discomfort of discussion so that we can all commit to the work rather than "agree" in the room but undermine the work later.
Embrace Conflict for Breakthrough Ideas
Embracing conflict within your product team can be a transformative approach that leads to the discovery of innovative ideas and solutions. Instead of avoiding conflict, it is crucial to acknowledge its inevitable presence and actively cultivate an environment that encourages open dialogue and constructive disagreements. By doing so, you create the potential for your team to unlock their best new ideas and achieve breakthrough results.
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