The Three “A’s” for Dealing with Conflict

Attacking.Abdicating.Accountability. 

When dealing with conflict there are only three ways in which you, or your reports, can respond. These are attacking, abdicating and being accountable.

  • Attacking – this is the first part of the “fight or flight” syndrome which we experience when we come across an uncomfortable situation. For example, we are in a meeting where someone has a differing opinion or idea.  We respond by becoming verbally violent and adopt an aggressive behavioral style.  Although this is a form of attack it is, in its essence, a defensive mechanism.  Hear our emotions control us, our ability to think objectively, to listen, to be creative and to consider alternatives is greatly reduced. This not only can lead to sub-optimal decisions, but we can alienate people and jeopardize relationships.
  • Abdicating – this is the “flight” aspect of the “fight or flight” syndrome.  Here we either withdraw from the discussion – this can be physical, mentally or emotionally – and we go to silence.  We don’t add our input or perspective to the general discussion and the collective pool of meaning and insights that the group can draw on is reduced.  Typically you will see passive-aggressive behavior being exhibited, where people only pay lip-service to what has been discussed or even actively sabotages what has been agreed in the meeting. Again, these results in sub-optimal decisions and the individual(s) who abdicate responsibility for the work or making a contribution will effectively undermine the team and his or her relationships with them.
  • Accountability – here the individual stands up and takes ownership of what is happening and the results and implications. To do this you must be open and willing to learn from others and to adapt a better solution no matter where it comes from. Accountability is about engaging yourself and others in a common purpose to achieve shared goals and outcomes. It requires you to let go of ego and to communicate and share ideas and insights, to collaborate, and to learn from each other.

There are only three responses available to you and your team – attack, abdicate or be accountable.  Most people know the first two and ignore the implications, but fail to adopt accountability as the default in order to realize the benefits.  Consider all the situations you are dealing with, at work and home, and ask yourself this: “What response I am currently adopting for this situation, and what response will provide the greatest benefits?  What three actions do I need to take to bridge the gap?” Ask yourself this, and then ask your team. Just exposing the third option of accountability will help people change how they respond to situations.

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