Effective Conflict Resolution
Today I'm back with something that can be pretty tricky, and nobody gets right 100% of the time. That's okay. It's also something that I get asked about a lot. The key to being a great manager, or a great producer, is emotional intelligence. Conflict resolution is part of that, and it's something that is often learnt the hard way.
I want to start by saying that I'm talking about standard game industry conflicts about design, processes, recruitment etc. Not talking about sexism/racism/ableism etc. and the advice here doesn't apply to those conversations as it requires an entirely different approach.
With that in mind - conflict can be good, and it's in fact necessary. Think about the people you have the most arguments with in your life (not counting strangers on the internet because that's too easy to get sucked into, haha.) It's usually the people you love and care about the most, the relationships that have the most trust in them, where you are able to lay your raw feelings on the table openly and sometimes overly honestly.
Conflict can be a sign of trust. It can also be a sign that you don't trust someone at all and don't get along with them but that is secondary to the usual scenario and manifests in different ways. You usually spend a lot of time politely skirting round the issue before it all culminating in a big bust up because you can't contain the rage any more.
If you have read Patrick Lencioni's book 'The 5 Dysfunctions of a Team' which I highly recommend, you'll have seen that number two on the pyramid is 'Fear of Conflict.'
'Teams that trust each other are not afraid to engage in passionate dialogue around issues and decisions that are key to the organization’s success. They do not hesitate to disagree with, challenge, and question one another, all in the spirit of finding the best answers, discovering the truth, and making great decisions.'
And, he also states a few ways which makes the difference between healthy conflict and unhealthy conflict;
Vulnerability-based trust is an absolute requirement for productive conflict.
Productive conflict is not about “winning an argument” but the “humble pursuit of truth.”
It is uncomfortable for everyone, but that shouldn’t prevent it from occurring.
The second line is incredibly important to me and something I think massively changes the overall tone of a conversation. Before you enter any conversation where a disagreement might occur, ask yourself this question 'Am I here to prove that I'm right, or am I here to get the best outcome for the team/game/situation.' You might think those things are one and the same, but they are not. It's opening the door for you to acknowledge that a perspective other than yours might be the best thing for the given situation, and someone else might have thought of something better than your idea. It means you don't go into the conversation in fight mode, you go into the conversation in exploration mode. It changes your whole body language and demeanour when you think about this question prior to engaging!
Ultimately - your idea might still be the best thing, but it means that during the conversation, you have been open-minded and shown vulnerability, which makes everyone around you more collaborative and the disagreement or conflict much more productive.
If you've done all this and find yourself at an impasse, where two people of equal authority have done everything they can to resolve a conflict and they still ultimately disagree, that's also okay. You need to be able to say your piece. Here are a few things you shouldn't do in this situation;
Continue the argument indefinitely
Drag other unrelated people into the conversation
I've seen how far things can go south when any of those things start to happen. Here are some suggestions for how to move past an impasse in a meaningful way;
Look at the data together - is there any objective source you can look at to get more information to help you make a decision and move forward?
Look at past decisions that were similar - what were those outcomes like?
Ask the experts - is there an external body or resource that you can use to find a way forward?
And ultimately, the most important thing you must do when you disagree with someone but the decision is finally made is to disagree and commit. I used to hate this term and sometimes I still do, but I can't deny the importance of it when you are trying to move forward.
It essentially means that even though you disagree, you commit to the decision and will do everything you can to make the outcome successful. You aren't there to sabotage because you think it was the wrong thing, you aren't there to say 'I told you so' when it messes up, you aren't there to back off entirely if someone needs your help and support to see it through.
Ultimately, you and the team need to make a decision to avoid any kind of decision paralysis, and disagree and commit to ensure you put 100% into making any decision that is made is a success.
One last thing I want to talk about is timing. The timing of a conversation is really important to make sure that the outcome is a good one and that everyone involved in the conflict leaves feeling respected even if it doesn't go their way. If something has gone wrong and you're in the heat of the moment then that isn't always a good time to discuss sensitive topics because nobody is in the right frame of mind for it and the outcome is less likely to be a good one. Sometimes those arguments evolve naturally at that point, so don't beat yourself up for being human, but if you can pull back and find a better time to have those conversations that will be helpful. Think about what the other person is dealing with at the time you plan to engage and evaluate whether that's really the best time to talk about something.
Overall, effective conflict resolution is something we'll all be figuring out as we grow in our careers, but I hope this information has helped you rethink a little how you might approach your next difficult conversation! Thanks, Sally