I’ve been thinking about mdz’s recent posts on leadership and thought I’d present you with the working model of the Joey Stanford Conflict Theorem.

Conflict, in it’s most elemental form, is due to a lack of understanding. Conflict occurs for three basic, often inseparable, reasons:

1) Needs – When someone’s (or some team’s) needs are not met, conflict occurs.  If you find yourself disagreeing violently with someone, and them with you, or you seem to be talking past each other, stop a moment, release the emotion, and try to ask probing questions to uncover what the other person’s need(s) is that has not been met. Then think about yourself, and try to understand your need. Your next task is then to call those needs out and work cooperatively with the other person to address those needs. This is easier said than done especially when the “active discussions” are really “heated arguments”.  This approach though is your exit ramp on the circle (or roundabout) of disagreement and fosters understanding.

2) Values – These are what drive your actions. Everyone and every team has differing values. Sometimes they are closely aligned, sometimes not. We very often chose to do, or not to do, something based upon our valuation of that activity.  When you are overloaded, you often drop the “nice to haves/nice to dos” because they are a low priority. They are a low priority because you don’t value them as high as other things. You can express these values in different ways. Here’s one example:  “I/We place a high value on <some activity or quality> and therefore I/we will <prioritize/mandate/restrict/prevent> <something> so <activity or quality> is ever-present.”  e.g. “We place a high value on code reviews and therefore we will mandate universal code reviews (so code reviews are always done)”  If you do not value something as much as someone else, or vice versa, it opens the door to conflict. This is because the higher valued items become NEEDS and these NEEDS are unmet.

3) Trust – mdz noted that the more you trust someone, the less you tend to communicate. The converse is also true, the less you trust someone, the more you NEED to communicate. If your trust level is low and you can’t communicate often and effectively then you have a NEED that is not met. If the other person is not communicating with you, it’s most likely due to one or more of the following reasons: a) they don’t realize you have this NEED and you should tell them, b) they don’t VALUE communication in the same way you do, or c) they have a NEED which is unmet.

The key to resolving conflict is understanding.  Being forceful, emotional, or withdrawn doesn’t work.  You need to reach out and discover/uncover the cause.