“Did You Call My Baby Ugly?” May Not Be The Best Question to Resolve Conflict

people in the form of gears.Being fascinated by human behavior is part of who I am and why I chose to build a career focused on the people side of business. Paying attention to a person’s behavior and seeing the impact that it has on others is fascinating. However, it’s only part of the puzzle. Motivation is what is driving the behavior – it’s WHY a person is behaving in a particular way. It’s the essence of the Relationship Awareness Theory.

BEHAVIOR = the things that people do.

MOTIVATION = the reasons they do it.

Behaviors are observable. Motivations are under the surface.

Why do people behave the way they do? To achieve something – a goal or to satisfy a need.

We are judged by what others see – our behaviors, but people cannot know our underlying motivations or intentions until a deeper relationship is established.

The Relationship Awareness Theory suggests we are motivated by our values, and our values are primarily concerned with:

  • People – wanting to help others
  • Performance – wanting to achieve results
  • Process – wanting to establish order

Our motivational value system serves as a basis for:

  • Choosing and giving purpose to behavior
  • Focusing attention on certain things while ignoring others – this is about how we leverage our strengths, which if overdone, become weaknesses
  • Perceiving and judging self and others – our perceptions are based on our personal filters, which are driven by our values

And it changes when we are faced with conflict. There are three primary motives in conflict:

  • Accommodate and preserve harmony
  • Assert and prevail over obstacles
  • Analyze and slow things down

When I refer to conflict, it’s more than a disagreement – it is a threat to our values.

So here’s an example of how this shift might look from when things are going well to when there is conflict:

Let’s say Penny has a primary value on PEOPLE and when things are going well is driven to help others and her behaviors demonstrate that is a priority for her. When a conflict occurs in her team, she may start by accommodating others to keep the peace. If the conflict continues, she may eventually feel driven to give up and completely surrender to others.

Another example is Paul, who has a primary value of PERFORMANCE and is driven to achieve business results when things are going well. However, once conflict begins, he will start by asserting himself to rise to challenge his perspective. If the conflict continues to escalate, he will fight for survival.

To gain a better understanding of other’s motives, get people talking with these sample questions:

  • What do you want from this interaction or situation?
  • What is important to you about this situation/issue?
  • What do you intend to accomplish by doing this?
  • What would cause a conflict for you in this situation?

Then, LISTEN for values or reasons by how they responded. What are their interests? OBSERVE how they approach a new/unexpected situation.

Should a conflict occur, here are some questions you could ask to get a dialogue going to facilitate a resolution:

  • What are some ways this could be resolved?
  • Ideally, what would be the outcome?
  • What would a minimally acceptable solution look like?

Then, seek to share your perspective by asking questions like:

  • May I share my priorities?
  • Would you like to hear my ideal outcome?

While none of us seek out conflict, there can be some benefit. Conflict provides an opportunity to learn what matters to people and a chance to make it right. 

If you want to learn more about how team members’ strengths, weaknesses and values impact their team’s performance, check out this recent study, Conflict, the Secret To Successful Teams.

Martha Duesterhoft is a Partner with PeopleResults. Follow her on Twitter @mduesterhoft or connect via email at mduesterhoft@people-results.com.