Productive Conflict: Bring in a Neutral Perspective

We don’t know what we don’t know.

That sounds obvious, right? But when tensions are high and conflict ensues, our view gets more narrow, and we don’t realize that we don’t know what we don’t know.

People who seek counsel tend to consult with trusted advisors to help evaluate risks and possible outcomes.

We’ll start with a real-life negative example.

A new superintendent in a school district put forth a new program idea: SCUBA diving instruction.

He had done it at his old school, to great success (according to him), so he pushed for it at his new assignment despite differences in the districts. He did the grant-writing, promoting, and logistics without asking for insights from others. He acted independently and autonomously.

This had some negative impacts. It hurt his credibility. It took away time from other efforts. It sent the message that the opinions of others were to be disregarded. And, it even led to ethical quandaries when the measurable impact of the program was exaggerated in order to garner support for its continuation.

Leaders tend to have a lot of experience and expertise.

Because of this, they may be tempted to decide independently and autonomously. We all have blinders, so bringing in others can help us see the bigger picture, even when we think we already see it.

During conflict, when our views are narrow, it’s a good idea to bring in a neutral perspective. Someone who isn’t emotionally invested can widen the windows of our own perspectives in order to see where are blinders are and what we’re missing.

Bringing in a neutral perspective may be more natural for those with the S style or C style, than for those with the D style or i style.

This is the 4th post in an 18-part series discussing positive conflict behaviors. Effective leaders encourage productive conflict and discourage unproductive conflict. Follow along as we explore the positive impact of these behaviors.

Part 1: Finding the Root of the Problem
Part 2: Apologize
Part 3: Listen to Differing Perspectives

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