Tight Rope Walking 101: High Potential Startups Balance between Creative Tension and Destructive Conflict Every Day

I have put together and delivered a workshop at several business incubators recently.  I have fun with it because I really enjoy watching the faces of the participants when a piece of information answers a question they have been struggling with for years. What is that question? For everyone in the room the question is different but my experience tells me that it stems from the idea that everyone knows what conflict is when they see it, but they are not always able to see it, and act on it in a productive way, in real time. As much as possible I like seeing things in real time, and I think others do as well.

Creative Tension Zone.png

I was at a business mixer a little while back, explaining the concept of Resologics and proactive conflict resolution. One of the folks I was talking with founded and runs a good size marketing agency and she immediately caught on to the idea behind Resologics and then described the concept of Creative Tension to me. Creative Tension is the gold of business relations she said. It is that place where the ideas of smart people are mixing and boiling and bumping into each other in ways they never have before. It is that space where huge ideas emerge, empires are built, and uncontrollable fun is around every corner. It is that place where people are opening up their minds to push out their best work and are opening themselves up for praise and critique like they never have before. We talked about the joy and productivity of that place and then we talked about the challenges that place in human relations presents when it moves a bit beyond the control edge. That edge is the line where Creative Tension turns to conflict.

So, seeing that movement from Creative Tension to conflict in real time is the challenge for us when we work in teams. (what I mean by “real time” is that point in time when it is happening, right there, right then, not a minute later, not an hour later, not a week later, but right then and there and sometimes even before it has fully emerged into a recognizable behavior.) Knowledge, intuition, and practice are all involved in spotting that edge in real time. When we can grasp what is happening and have an awareness of our own reactions and those of others, we are much more likely to be able to stay in the productive Creative Tension zone and less likely to fall into conflict. Easier said than done – right? Right!

Over the next several blog posts I’d like to take a semi-deep dive into some of the concepts that help us become more aware of what is happening in and around human relations and conflict so we can be aware in real time.

  • Step 1 – Know the basic warning signs
  • Step 2 – Understand where you and the team are at along the conflict curve
  • Step 3 – Knowing what a conflict spiral is and how to exit it before it is too late
  • Step 4 – Once you know you’ve passed into the destructive conflict zone, what are some of the things you can do to move back to a better place? Action items…
  • Step 5 – What are some of the regular and predictable conflict causing systems at play in startups and how can you plan for conflict mitigation?
  • Step 6 – Homework – how can we practice every day so we see what is happening around us in real time when things get a little rough?

Step 1 – Early Warning Signs – The Conflict Rumble Strip

Check out some of these warning signs that have been brought up at some of the trainings I have done. Do you recognize some of them?

  1. Dysfunctional meetings
  2. Bad e-mails
  3. Tense relations
  4. Anger (even just once)
  5. Confusion
  6. Anxiety
  7. High turn-over
  8. Loss of trust
  9. “Over-the-top” reactions
  10. Opposing groups forming within team
  11. Repetitive patterns of disagreement
  12. Entrenchment of disagreement
  13. Inability to move forward
  14. Productivity slowdowns
  15. Unusual level of feeling of pressure
  16. Avoidance of working with some people
  17. Effected relations with external vendors
  18. Hiding behavior from outsider’s view
  19. Call by some for outsider help
  20. Feelings of being unwelcome
  21. Communication stops
  22. What would you add to this list?
the conflict rumble strip.png

Once you have finished digesting that list, and before the next time you are working with your team, a question or two that may be worth pondering include these;

  • Am I better off ignoring that warning sign I just saw or should I do something about it?
  • Will the team be better off if I ignore that sign I just saw or should I do something about it?
  • Wait, did anyone else just see that happen? Why not?
  • What is going on for me that makes that warning sign so visible?
  • When should I do something?
  • What are my options if I decide to do something about it?
  • If I decide not to act on that warning sign, why have I made that decision?

This information will interpret differently for each person reading yet I hope that the list combined with the questions will help you be aware in real time. I’ll post some information and thoughts about the Conflict Curve and startups next time.

Take care out there… Mark