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Have you ever been to an Indian Lunch Buffet? Assuming that it did not give you indigestion, and that you enjoyed the food, what are your top five favorite dishes? I am going to go on a limb and try to guess them here…

  • Naan Bread or Biryani
  • Tandoori Chicken
  • Chicken Tikka Masala
  • Saag Paneer
  • Gulab Jamun or Kheer

Now, imagine a much ballyhooed Indian restaurant called – ‘Something Palace’ opens up a branch next to your work place. What’s special about this location is that it offers your top five favorite dishes in the unlimited lunch buffet every single day! Even better – for $10.99 you get a groupon for a lifetime of lunches at this location. Would you buy it?

Let’s assume you would. And you show up to buffet one day, ravenous. There is a special welcome counter for those with the groupon – kind of like the priority access line at the airport security check. The host is gracious, friendly and helpful – guiding you at this special counter. You reach out to get the naan and  he transforms into Mr. Hyde! Rapping you hard on your knuckle he directs, some indecipherable obscenities in an Indian language (probably Hindi) your way. Suitably chastised, you reach out for the biryani instead – same results, different obscenities. You adjust your approach and try out the Chicken Tikka Masala and this time, the result is different – he tasers you and gives you an earful of English obscenities!

What the heck is going on, you challenge the host after you recover? Turns out that there was some fine print in the groupon offer you did not read. You can only pick two items out of five in the buffet and he gets to choose which two items those are. So you are resigned to a life-time of lunch of saag paneer and gulab jamun. Would that be a fulfilling or nutritious lunch? More importantly, would that be a fair deal?

What would you do if this happened to you? What if you learned this unjust crime was being perpetrated against millions of people all across the world every single day, cheating them of billions of dollars every year? Chances are that you would not put up with this nonsense. You would get together a class action law-suit, putting the owner and each franchisees of Something Palace out of business and behind bars!

But what would you do if it turned out that you were one of the franchisees yourself? Read on…

Continuing where we paused in ‘Chapter 7 – Waiting for Seeker-Man!’…

It was a Thursday morning when I received my first ‘Bowfinger Delivery’. I was on a call – working from home, looking out at the Hydrangeas, Roses and Crape Myrtles in the garden. My colleague and I were on a meeting to prepare for a meeting (very sad, but very common). We were trying to figure out how we could get more out of our weekly “Core Team Call”. He asked me if I had read a book called ‘Death by Meeting’ by someone called Pat Lencioni. I said I hadn’t. He typed the name of the book and the author in the chat window and suggested that I take a look at it.

So I went to Borders and got myself this book. It was a page turner if there ever was one, and the most entertaining business book I have ever read! I was hooked! Within a few months, I had bought and read almost all the books by Pat –

  • The Five Dysfunctions of a Team
  • Silos, Politics and Turf Wars
  • The Five Temptations of a CEO
  • The Four Obsessions of an Extraordinary Executive
  • The Three Signs of a Miserable Job
  • Getting Naked

There is much that I learned from Pat’s books. But the first lesson was the importance of conflict to the success of a team. The role of a good leader is to give team permission to engage in constructive ideological conflict, and to encourage them to be passionate without being emotional, Pat said.

But how do you coach your team to manage conflicts constructively? Most of us cringe at the thought of conflict – it evokes memories of all the messy confrontations we have ever had, creating tightness in the pit of the stomach. Often, we just wish that conflicts would go away and any attempt to think about them makes us really uncomfortable. Pat suggested that readers consider the Thomas Kilmann Conflict Mode Indicator, or the TKI.

Displaying my exceptional investigative prowess, and determination, I pulled up the preciouses Googleses on the Internetses. (I am not sure if I am channeling my inner Dubya or Gollum or both.) Googleses, dependable as ever, led me to the book – Introduction to Conflict Management, by Ken Thomas, the co-author of the TKI. Here’s what I learned from Ken…

The purpose of the TKI is to help us manage conflicts in a safe, pragmatic and situation based way. As I started reading the book, the biggest shift occurred when I learned to reframe conflict as a neutral event that can be steered in the desired direction. It’s like a car parked in the driveway. We have the choice to steer it to work or vacation. But if we don’t know how to steer a car, the very thought of driving will make us nervous and uncomfortable. And without the necessary training, chances are that we will steer it into a tree or a wall.

It is a basic human need to go from where we are to where we need to be. We all learn to walk, cycle, drive a car, or use some form of transport to fulfill this basic need. Perhaps the existence of conflict is just as common as the existence of the need to commute, but how many of us learn to drive conflict? So how do you learn to drive conflict? The same way you get to Carnegie Hall and upset Allen Iverson. Practice!!

You begin by learning about the two independent dimensions that influence us in the face of conflict-

  • Assertiveness – How hard we are trying to address our concerns

  • Cooperativeness – How hard we are trying to address the other person’s concerns

I used to think that these two dimensions were opposite and mutually exclusive – I could either be assertive or cooperative, but not both. It turns out that I was mistaken. Ken and Ralph emphasize that you can be assertive and cooperative at the same time. Based on these two dimensions, they proposed five styles of responding to conflict-

  • Avoiding – Low on both assertiveness and cooperativeness. Ignoring a conflict or waiting for more favorable conditions before addressing it.

  • Accommodating – Low on assertiveness and high on cooperativeness. Sacrificing your concerns so that the other person can get what they want.

  • Compromising – Intermediate on assertiveness and cooperativeness. Losing something, gaining something else.

  • Competing – Highly assertive, low on cooperativeness. Getting what matters to you without caring about the other person’s needs.

  • Collaborating – High on both assertiveness and cooperativeness. Trying to get the best possible solution for both parties.

So this brings us to the Groupon Buffet Burglary that is robbing millions of unsuspecting victims as we speak, perhaps even you…

There is no best style for resolving conflicts – each style has pros and cons and we need to select the style that is best suited to the situation at hand. Unfortunately, someone usually denies us the freedom to choose the style that would serve us best. Like the owner at your local branch of Something Palace, this someone raps you on the knuckles or tasers you when you choose some of the five styles of conflict resolution, forcing you to only choose from the remaining two or three styles.

Over time, you get so conditioned to avoid pain that you automatically pick the two styles that won’t get you rapped on the knuckles and tasered. Naturally, it is not a very fulfilling existence, but there is not much you can do about it. Because you aren’t aware of who this someone is, what this someone is doing and how you can prevent this someone from limiting your options. And you are not aware that the someone is you!

Ken’s book opened my eyes to this strange crime I was committing against myself in the face of conflicts every single day. I was denying myself the freedom to choose the style that made the most sense for the specific conflict I was facing. However, before I could change my behavior, I need to understand the reasons behind it. Ken helped me identify two crucial habits that were causing this to happen-

  • Underlying Intentions – When I did not understand why someone was choosing to behave in a certain way during conflict, I often attributed a negative underlying intention behind their actions.
  • Negative Stereotyping – This led me to generalize and negatively stereotype certain people and conflict resolution styles…
    • Avoiders – Keep stonewalling and delaying progress
    • Accommodators – Are door-mats and can’t stand up for what they believe in
    • Compromisers – Will make barter anything to make a deal
    • Competers – Are aggressive bullies who will trample on others to get what they want

Once my auto-response kicked in with these assumptions, I was less likely to constructively manage a conflict with a person whose underlying intentions I suspected. And I was less likely to select a conflict resolution style with which I associated a negative stereotype, even if that were the most appropriate style for the moment.

I had a long way to go before I mastered conflict resolution, but as a wise man once said…

“A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.”

-Confucius

It looked like I had taken the first step on a very long and fascinating journey. I was beginning to understand the design of conflict. I had not reached the stage where I could disrupt my auto-response, but I was starting to notice when it was hurting me. What about you?

  • What is your auto-response in the face of conflict?
  • Which of the five styles of conflict resolution do you tend to overuse? Which styles have you conditioned yourself to under-use?
  • Why does this happen? What role do underlying intentions and negative stereotyping play in enabling your auto-response?
  • How is this costing you? Is the cost high enough to sit up and take notice?
  • If yes, what do you do next?

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About Ravi Verma

Ravi Verma is a Public Speaker, Agile Coach, Professional Scrum Trainer, Evidence Based Management Consultant and Blogger with a passion for helping teams recapture the magic of making I.T.  ,  ,  ,  ,  ,  ,  ,  ,  ,

9 Comment(s)
  1. Judy Pulice January 7, 2011 at 12:41 am

    Ravi, thanks for sharing the thoughtful and insights into conflict resolution. No matter our age, experience or knowledge, reminders of how to constructively handle conflict always seem timely and appropriate. I’m very glad to find your blog. Judy

    • Ravi Verma January 12, 2011 at 6:33 pm

      Judy,
      Thanks for the kind words.
      Ravi.

  2. Shekhar ChikkiReddy January 12, 2011 at 6:18 pm

    Hello Ravi,

    I discovered you and your resume Online on Dice and your Blog Online on Your Online Resume that I discovered Online on Dice. So much for all of us being Onlineses on the Internetses.

    Well, I am pretty impressed with your company/site and your school of thought which I am yet to discover in its totality. Your sense of humor is pretty awesome and your writing very original in a simple yet lucid way.

    I have signed up for your newsletter and will look forward to hearing more from you. I may even pick up one of those books you discovered and suggested in your blog.

    In closing I was just curious to know as to which is your all time favorite chick flick?

    Wishing you a Very New Year.

    Regards
    Shekhar

    • Ravi Verma January 12, 2011 at 6:38 pm

      Shekhar,
      Thanks for your kind words.

      You have raised a very serious question and I will have to give it careful consideration.

      My initial response is – You’ve Got Mail and One Fine Day However, I reserve the right to change my mind after I have consulted my angel investor and wife.

      Thanks for single handedly doubling the readership of my blog! I am hoping we can work together to triple it in the coming days. I am willing to read my blog twice. You read it once.

      Have a terrific 2011!

      Regards,
      Ravi.

  3. Ralph Kilmann January 17, 2011 at 4:56 pm

    Hi Ravi,

    You are doing a beautiful and meaningful job by discussing your personal adventures with conflict management…and bringing in so many interesting pieces of the puzzle. I am thoroughly enjoying your very down-to-earth writing style, which makes this material so accessible to others. Thank you for providing this service, so many more people can benefit from your experiences and insights!

    Warmly,
    Ralph

    • Ravi Verma January 18, 2011 at 5:14 am

      Thanks Ralph!

      I got the idea to combine different techniques from your workshop on applying the TKI and MBTI to conflict resolution. I have tried to extend the approach by combining other influences like the PMAI.

      Hope this makes powerful tools and techniques like the TKI, MBTI and PMAI accessible to readers.

      Ravi.

      • Gerrit January 14, 2013 at 1:52 pm

        Managing conflict is the great cnhlleage for all of us. This is a discipline and it should not just be limited to being taught at home when we’re children, it should be part of the curriculum in our schools, just as financial education should be as well.Without the foundational skills to navigate conflict, we or others are going to struggle regardless of the great knowledge, tools and help that is out there. If our base education (elementary, middle school and high school) won’t make room for such a critical life skill, if we’re not learning it at home (where dysfunction is part of many families), then colleges and yes, even human resource departments, should make classes in the area mandatory and in the workplace, ongoing.The benefits are exponentially wonderful. The costs of the failure to do so are high and sometimes dangerous.

    • Britney January 14, 2013 at 10:38 pm

      Thanks for opening up the deabte, Guy. So as a clear Covey advocate, you think Win/Win is better than all other outcomes? My turn to disagree now. Do I really want to put energy and time into collaborating with the Broadband salesman who calls me at home on a Friday evening? Competitive response is called for, surely: two words, second word is off ! Do you see no benefit in an Accommodate response on something trivial (what shall we watch on TV) in order to gain points to chip in later when it matters (Win/Win)? I also think you misunderstand the model. The idea is to use it to understand your conflict preference. It is not to then be used as an excuse: more of a tool to help you consciously plan not to go with your preference in every situation. Used intelligently it can help you get the best outcome. Final point (you made so many!): I can’t agree that conflict is a worthless use of time. Conflict is what drives change, and without it there would be no progress. There you go: these are my opinions (not Truths, please note).

      • Ravi Verma April 13, 2014 at 7:20 pm

        Britney,
        Not sure I implied that win-win is always the best solution.

        The TKI model encourages situational use of the appropriate conflict resolution style based on the costs / benefits and parameters like the strength / importance of the relationship.

        Not sure if I implied that conflict is a worthless use of time. Conflict is healthy and a powerful source of growth and wisdom.

        Thanks for your thoughtful comments.
        Ravi.

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