Build Trust & Resolve Conflict

dreamstime_xs_4748643 (2)We are all familiar with Patrick Lencioni’s Five Dysfunctions of a Team.  Overcoming Lencioni’s first two dysfunctions—the absence of trust and the fear of conflict—is essential in the development of a high-performance team.  Well, Stephen M. R. Covey, in his book The Speed of Trust, identifies five tools to help build trust and resolve conflict.  They are: integral vision, system thinking, presence, self-awareness, and inquiry.

Integral Vision

Covey’s first tool, integral vision, is not about doing anything.  It is about seeing.  When a conflict erupts, what is the first thing you do?  You didn’t set out to have a conflict.  You don’t even like them.  But it is here, and you are in the middle of it.  It can’t be avoided or controled.  What is the first thing you can do?  Witness!  What a great word.  Covey says that when you find yourself in the middle of a conflict the first thing to do is nothing.  Just observe, become a witness to the conflict.  Try to see it in all its parts.  “Before you take action,” writes Covey, “commit yourself to seeing as much of the larger picture as possible.”

System Thinking

Covey’s second tool is system thinking.  System thinking is about making sense of what you have witnessed.  It is about seeking to understand, to identify as many of the significant elements related to the conflict as you can.  System thinking enables you to map the territory.  Keep the map simple, and include your own role in the conflict in the map.  Just stay open to what is real; what is the “world” of the problem.  I once heard a wise man say, “If the map doesn’t match the territory, the map is wrong.”  You need to make a good map.  Don’t judge at this point, just collect.  We are often tempted to judge too early.  We may feel time demands it, or more likely, our reputation demands it.  But don’t give in to the temptation.  Although you will never have a 100 percent solution, good judgment demands that you put your first impressions aside and take another look at the whole problem.

People do what they do because it makes sense to them, not because it is true.  It is not what is true that determines what you do, but what you think is true.  Have you ever made a mistake?  Did you do it on purpose?  Were you treated as if you had done it on purpose?  Get out of the judging mode and see the problem from a system perspective.  Forget the “why” for now and look for the “what.”  Oh, and one more thought from Covey, “Think twice before you call someone the enemy.”

System thinking directs your focus on fixing the problem not on fixing blame.  You can blame someone else, and create anger.  You can blame yourself and create guilt.  Or, you can try to understand the system issues and learn the lesson.  It was Dr. W. Edwards Deming who said, “The worker is not the problem.  The system is the problem.  If you want to improve performance you must work on the system.”


Covey’s third tool is the one he calls the “master tool.”  The tool is presence, “an expression of our capacity to apply all of our resources to witnessing and transforming the conflict.”  Covey continues to describe presence as “not…an actual tool but rather a crucial quality of the tool user.”  With the amount of information we receive every day, true presence is almost impossible.  One estimate suggests that the average person speaks at a rate of 100 to 300 words per minutes while our minds are working at up to 600 words per minutes.  In other words, we have a lot of spare time to spend with our mind while someone else is talking, and we gladly fill in that space with other things.  And if this is someone you don’t like, why listen at all?  Would you like to do a better job of witnessing and transforming the conflict?


Covey’s fourth tool is self-awareness, “the ability to recognize and understand your moods, emotions, and drives.”  This self-awareness, especially when it comes to your awareness or your emotions and the emotions of your team, is critical to surviving conflict.  For more on the importance of being emotionally aware, check out Daniel Goleman’s book Emotional Intelligence, and Travis Bradberry and Jean Greaves’ book The Emotional Intelligence Quick Book.  In Covey’s model, being self-aware means having “the ability to control or redirect disruptive impulses and moods; the propensity to suspend judgment—to think before acting.”  It means having “a passion to work for reasons that go beyond money or status.”  It also means having “the ability to understand the emotional makeup of other people,” and having “proficiency in managing relationships and building networks; an ability to find common ground and build rapport.”  Bradberry and Greaves conclude that “members of emotionally intelligent teams get better results and experience deeper satisfaction from working together.”


Covey’s final conflict management tool is inquiry.  Covey writes, “Inquiry is a way of asking questions that elicit information that matters.  It is the skill of asking generative questions—and then listening carefully to the answers.”  Inquiry is not interrogation, but rather the willingness to listen and learn from another.

In the field of organization development, one of the approaches I like is called Appreciative Inquiry.  Developed in the 1980s, it grew to become an approach to change that doesn’t look back to what went wrong and try to fix it, but rather looks for what is going right and move toward it, embracing what works.  A great resource for teams that want to use this approach is Diana Whitney’s book Appreciative Team Building.  In it you will find numerous examples of questions that “offer a way to (re)shape conversations and alter trajectories in teams so that members are more likely to eagerly anticipate coming together….”  It is not only a way of asking questions—what Covey calls inquiry—it does it in a way that leads to positive change.

“Why do you pray?” The young man asked his teacher. “I pray that He will give me strength to ask the right questions.”  (Elie Wiesel)