Know your thinking and belief style to be conflict competent

April 29, 2009

This week I participated in a webinar conducted by Insight Fusion. Following an online slide show, a– community of consultants doing work on innovation in organizations discussed the ways to engage people who may not believe that knowledge or exploration of thinking style is important.

My interest in participating in this webinar and the conversation about the topic stemmed from my observations about the conflicts in the workplaces where I intervene. I often observe people in conflict over how to achieve their shared tasks and mutual goals. They all agreed on almost everything except how to get where they knew they wanted and needed to go. Some wanted to be bold and innovative. Some had a lower risk tolerance and wanted to take a safer more factually based route. Depending on whether someone believes in fixed knowledge or fluid exploration, he or she will have a different approach to a problem and a very different set of possible solutions that have the potential to create extremely different action plans. This is what I call their conflict mental map: each person in the conflict has a mental map of what s/he thinks is the correct route to the goal and, on this mental map, the other people in the conflict are on the wrong path.

Dennis Stauffer of Insight Fusion ( the webinar and wrote this about it:

“To a great degree we  each create the world as we know it. Our assumptions and beliefs form mental models that have a powerful impact on how we see– and interpret everything around us. Some of our mental models are based on conscious choices that we may strongly defend. Other– mental models are unconscious choices. They are unexamined assumptions that we hold without realizing their implications. Your– mental models may make it easier or more difficult for you to learn, adapt, solve problems and respond to challenges in all aspects of your life, personal and professional. This assessment is designed to reflect back to you some of your mental models and the  beliefs, values and behaviors you hold as a result. Our mental models are frequently invisible to us. So it can be tremendously  helpful to identify and examine them.”

There is a whole set of conflicts or potential for conflicts that can arise from this difference in belief systems. The conflicts in this analysis would be between those who believe that there is a definite answer if only there are enough collected facts and those who believe that possible answers could be explored or discovered. This difference in approaches to issues and solutions could be a source of considerable conflict when members of a work team need to formulate shared action plans.

The way to move forward from this potential deadlock is to get out of the either/or thinking in which this clash of belief systems gets people stuck. Those who believe that there is knowledge that would lead to a set of facts that would point to the right answer have a valuable contribution to make to the team. Those who believe that there are possible new unexplored options to consider also have a valuable contribution to make to the team. In order to do this, people must be realistic about what type of thinker they are, and what their belief system about knowledge is.

The path forward is in the conversation between those two ways of believing. Rather than each arguing in favor of his or her preferred belief of how to proceed, they could have a conversation about all the options, exchange interests, share their concerns and projections, and keep open minded about what the others have to say. Chances are that their goals for the team are the same, such as to succeed in the action plan whatever it is. What they disagree on is how to achieve that goal. They may have to trust that there are a few different ways that they might succeed and that their collective wisdom can be trusted.

Filed Under: Conflict Competence      

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