When we are in conflict with someone at work, it can feel like we are in a tug-of-war (or worse). There is our way (which of course, is the right way), and their way (the not-so-right-way).
When conflict feels like this, in order to move forward, it seems as though there are only two options: win or lose. My way or the highway.
In teams, we can get stuck feeling like we need to have 100% agreement or full consensus in order to progress.
And the consequence of these ways of dealing with disagreement is that we lose time and energy spinning our wheels.
What finding alignment can offer
While consensus is often held as the gold standard for decision making (and can be a very powerful tool to use), it’s not always feasible or attainable in all situations.
Instead of setting consensus or full agreement as the goal, if we instead focus on finding alignment, the goal becomes finding a piece of the situation to align around as a common goal or interest.
And, as a bonus, when we focus on finding alignment, conflict or disagreement can actually become a creative act that allows both parties to come to a more creative solution than either of party could come up with on their own.
Alignment vs. agreement
Alignment can be defined as “bringing parts into proper relative position; to adjust, to bring into proper relationship or orientation.” While full consensus or agreement is not always possible when we’re in conflict, there is always something to align around, dependent on how willing both parties are to look for it. In order to align, you both must be open to some degree of influence from each other.
Successful alignment also doesn’t mean both of you necessarily have to like each other or agree with each other. For example, you can be in alignment with a co-worker about the need to accomplish a job together, while disliking each other, or disagreeing about the methods.
Instead of having the issue separate you and the other person, looking for alignment allows you to get the problem out in front of the two of you: to act as a team to address the issue together. Instead of trying to win over the other person to your side of the issue, or staying locked in your own position, alignment can allow both of you to turn your attention and creative energies to what you both are fundamentally interested in underneath your individual positions. You can pull together, lined up behind a common interest, instead pulling against each other.
Focusing on what you and another person share in any situation, instead of what you don’t, helps lead towards more creative solutions that honor both of you and your ideas.
When you’re next stuck in a conflict, ask yourself these questions:
- What is the real issue?
- What do we each really want?
- Why is it important to resolve this issue?
- What do we both share as common interests, goals or beliefs? What is the agenda that is greater than both of us?
- How can we resolve this as a team? What concrete action steps can we take together?
In the Comments below, I’d love to hear your take on finding alignment. Let me know:
What helps you find alignment and common ground during conflict? What difference does aligning vs. agreeing make?
Hanna Cooper is part of the GovLoop Featured Blogger program, where we feature blog posts by government voices from all across the country (and world!). To see more Featured Blogger posts, click here.