I’m from the Midwest – born, raised, and a “lifer” here. It’s a lovely place to live and work. But for many years I had no idea that there was an actual “culture” in the Midwest. Since then, I’ve come to recognize that the culture includes (as all cultures do) some things that are life-enhancing and some that aren’t.
We’re a kind culture; generous, hospitable, and usually agreeable. We don’t pick fights. In fact, we’ll do anything we can to avoid disagreement: run, hide, avoid, withdraw, or change the subject. As a result, a lot goes unsaid in the groups and teams that are essential to running businesses as well as in the households that populate this area.
When leaders move here from other locales, they may struggle to understand the Midwest Nice (yes, that’s what it’s called) culture. Overly loud, controlling, directive behaviors are shunned in public but whispered about in private because, after all, we’re nice. We don’t want to offend anyone to their face.
Although I’ve exaggerated for the sake of illustration, there is truth in the description of our culture. We swim in our way of reacting, just like we breathe the air around us without noticing. We often avoid conflict, often not knowing that in many situations, we can choose to respond in ways that create better outcomes.
Choosing how you respond to conflict
You might think that the only ways to respond to conflict include:
- Avoiding it
- Insisting that you’re right, or
- Getting everyone to agree
There are other ways to respond to conflict. If we can become aware of disagreement as it arises, we can choose the best way to respond for the circumstances and individuals involved. Making a choice that encourages diversity of thinking and surfacing the “unsaid” in communication can make for improved relationships and better decisions.
As a leader, you must learn to take responsibility to observe disagreements and decide the best method to resolve them. When you recognize and become aware of your choices, you can make a decision about how you want to react to it, if you are willing to:
Slow down and realize that there are differing opinions on the subject at hand that might inform better decisions.
Listen to opposing views. “Pretend listening” – nodding your head while you’re forming your own argument about why other views are wrong – isn’t really listening. You need to shut off the chatter and judgment that is going on and really listen.
Ask questions to dig deeper into the reasoning of those who think differently to help you understand their stance; there may be some good stuff there.
Acknowledge those with divergent views for their contribution to final outcomes. They’ve been essential to making the outcomes better than they would have been without the conflict.
As a leader, you must learn to model your reaction to conflict in order to shape your culture. Consider your natural reaction to conflict, and then make a conscious choice about how to react to those who disagree with you in order to make the best decisions.