Taking Advantage of Conflicts in Group Decision Making

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Six Thinking Hats > Best Practices > Taking Advantage of Conflicts in Group Decision Making

Taking Advantage of Conflicts in Group Decision Making
Anneke Zwart, Student (University), Netherlands, Moderator
In past research it was often argued that group decision making (GDM) improves if task-conflicts are present.
Task-conflicts are different opinions about the content and outcomes of the task being
Why this positive effect? Because task-conflicts prevent premature consensus and encourage critical thinking. It seems obvious. But other studies found no such relationship or even a negative one. The relationship between tasks conflicts and good GDM is thus ambiguous.

De Wit, Jehn and Scheepers have recently discovered that another factor is playing an important role when we're analyzing the extent to which task-conflicts are beneficial for GDM: the presence (or absence) of a relationship conflict.
According to the authors, task conflicts are more likely to have a positive effect on GDM if relationship conflicts are absent in the company.

They suggest 2 possibilities in which a relationship conflict negatively affects the relationship between task conflict and GDM:
1. A relationship conflict causes rigidity: Frictions, negative emotions, or antipathy towards others leads to certain reactions in a debate that are likely to spill over to other group members. The flexible, open-minded attitude in debates becomes more rigid and closed as a result and the willingness to accord to opinions of other group members is reduced. Rather people will rigidly hold their initial opinions.
2. A relationship conflict creates processing information biases: In healthy decision-making processes, group members use their own information as well as information they can obtain from other team members. However, if relationship conflicts are present group members often decide to only use their own information when making decisions.
Both of these possibilities are hard to measure. However, the study of de Wit argues that in assessing the relationship between task conflicts and GDM it is important to take other factors into account that indirectly affect this relationship.
Source: de Wit, F. R., Jehn, K. A., and Scheepers, D. (2013). Task conflict, information processing, and decision-making: The damaging effect of relationship conflict. Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes, 122(2), 177-189.

How to Benefit from Conflicts in Group Decision Making?
Jaap de Jonge, Editor, Netherlands
I believe Bono's 6 Thinking Hats (6TH) might be quite useful to benefit from task conflicts and avoid emotional ones while analyzing problems in a group.
Because in the 6TH approach all group members are simultaneously wearing the same 'hat' to look at a problem or situation. And they collectively switch to another hat/perspective.
This procedure is likely to bring task-conflicts into the open. And it decreases the influence of any relational conflict between certain participants, because we're all on the same page and explore options together.
By the way, another approach to decrease the influence of emotional conflicts in a group might be the Ritual Dissent approach.

Quality of Decision Making Depends on the Intent of the Individuals in the Group
srinivas, Lecturer, India, Member
I believe the quality of the decision making depends on the intent of the people working in the group.
If the intent of the members is good, then even though the views may differ, the quality of the decision will be of the highest order.

How to Measure Relationship Conflict?
Ben Smith, Manager, United Kingdom, Member
It must be difficult to measure the presence/absence of relationship conflict in studies of GDM as these are often masked over in the business world. Do you know how de Wit identified this? Or how it could be measured?

Conflict can be a Source of Inspiration
Ruwan Bandara, Manager, Sri Lanka, Member
Conflicts motivate us to think in an extraordinary way. For example in the 1970s and 1980s during the cold war between USA and Soviet Russia.
The Internet and the first man on the moon can be considered the results of that fight. In the same way, if leaders can position a conflict strategically they can build competitive advantage on that conflict while investing in conflict intellectual capital.

How Relationship Conflict can Be Reduced for Better Decision Making
Leena Bissoonauth, Student (University), Mauritius, Member
Low levels of conflict in a group may improve the quality and creativity of decision making, but this effect vanishes when the conflict intensifies, because intense conflicts distract people because of their emotions.
Task and relationship conflict are often correlated. Disagreement on a task issue can lead to personal attacks. Relationship conflict often lead to increased task conflicts because of the negative emotions created. When there is trust, task-related conflict is less likely to lead to relationship conflicts and therefore members can tolerate task related conflict and use the conflict productively.
Therefore to use conflict constructively, one needs to cultivate an environment that is open and tolerant of diverse viewpoints, where team members feel free to express their opinions and have the ability to resist pressure to conform to the group. There must be cooperative work relationship so that disagreements are not misinterpreted as personal attacks.

Group Bonding and Tenure is Important
DANNY SUSIKWANA, Accountant, Zambia, Member
Relationship conflicts may help enhance GDM. However this does not apply to all kinds of groups. Groups which benefit from relationship conflicts include those who have bonded due to having worked together over a fairly long time. This is because such groups have had the opportunity to see the outcomes of previous decisions made by the group and have bonded well enough to know the decision-making flair of each group member.
The tendency of conflicts for such groups would be reflective on how certain conflict positions taken in the past were proven either right or wrong by the results. Leadership from those with greater DM flair in the group eventually emerges as others recognize them.
The tendency for such groups is not to continue with conflicts but to be harmonious in the long run. Conflict is only important in the initial stages and may be sustained by changing group members in order to keep some conflict which will preserve creativity in the group.

The 3rd Alternative in Conflicts: 'Our Way'
Purna Chandra, Business Consultant, India, Member
The topic reminds me of the concept in the book "The 3rd Alternative" by Stephen Covey.
Obvious enough, "Our Way" is superior to "My Way" or "Your Way"; however, it requires immense maturity and humility to let go one's ego and engage in true task oriented discussion. In the organisational context, where individuals and groups with diverse interests are working together in pursuit of common objectives, the power equation amongst them as well as the ambitions of individual members, create barriers to achievement of optimal outcome from conflicts. One of the greatest contributors to truly rewarding outcomes is the organisational culture and the HRD ecosystem in the organisation.

Our Way, Because we are not Alone
Victor Manuel Monteiro Seco, Entrepreneur, Portugal, Member
@Purna Chandra: Indeed. we have no conflicts alone. So we must learn each other how to stop with our ambitious and egotistic positions. Conflicts are very important for organizational growth if we use them to co-create optimal solutions. Conflict is not a closure.

Conflicts in GDM
Willie Odemwingie, Lecturer, Nigeria, Member
People that make up a group are usually from different backgrounds. They may be from different discipline, family, culture and have other inherent traits. So there is bound to be conflict. Some organizations have someone special who has the role of conflict resolution.
Conflicts in GDM give way for creative thinking if taken positively by members in the group. However, if the intent is to run down others, it generates negative results.

How to Benefit from Group Decision Making?
Satya Narayan, Strategy Consultant, India, Member
1. First the organisation needs to ensure conflicts do not arise from relationships. Implementation and maintenance of well defined processes, job descriptions, responsibility/authority matrix will ensure minimal frictions due to absence of ambiguity/responsibility gaps/overlaps.
Everyone in the decision making process should be committed to well defined and implemented value systems/standards.
2. Step 1 will ensure we have matured processes, and conflicts will arise on ways of doing things, bring in creativity/innovation.Such conflicts will be beneficial to GDM.
3. Usage of structured techniques like brainstorming, Six Hats, quantitative decision models, paired comparison analysis etc. will ensure that the organisation can benefit from GDM, finding ways to optimal and best fit solutions to problem solving.

Selfless Group Decision Making
kvssiyer, Consultant, India, Member
Group Decision Making with cross functional team members always leads to a purposeful, actionable team with creation of added value, provided the group members are selfless and independent in conflict resolution. This means arguing the point of view irrespective of the consequences fro themselves but focusing on adding value to the rationality and logic of the argument.

Applying the Six Thinking Hats Method to Group Conflict
Gary Wong, Consultant, Canada, SIG Leader
As this is the 6TH forum, has any contributor applied 6TH to deal with conflict? I handle potential conflict by getting everyone to put on the same Hat and then do parallel thinking rather than arguing. Relationship conflicts can be temporarily suspended by getting their minds pointing in the same direction by wearing the same Hat.
I often think I achieve better GDM outcomes with a conflicted group using 6TH. It's probably because there is diversity in thought, a high degree of interest, and real passionate people. Let's not waste the energy. 6TH as a tool enables you to harness the power.

Six Thinking Hats and the Covey's 3rd Alternative: 'Our Way'
Gary Wong, Consultant, Canada, SIG Leader
@Purna Chandra: Great observation! As a Franklin Covey certified trainer, here's how I incorporate Six Thinking Hats into the 3rd Alternative process.
Habit 4: Think Win-Win means willing to wear the same Hat when asked. Not cooperating is a Lose-Win or Lose-Lose paradigm.
Habit 5: Seek First to Understand, then be Understood means putting on the White Hat and listening. Then it's being able to repeat what was said to demonstrate you listened with empathy. Empathy means seeing issues from the other person's perspective, not from where you come from.
Habit 6: Synergize means using a creative Hat sequence (e.g., Green/Yellow/Black) and then working in parallel to find the 3rd alternative - a choice that is better than what either side could achieve working alone.

Most Important in GDM: Dealing with Self-Interest. What Conflict Models can Resolve that?
Ken Sylvester, Professor, United States, Member
I remain a constant learner as regards conflict. My professional background as negotiator in 23 countries causes me to ask more questions than offer statements.
One question asked of those reading this dialogue involves the effectiveness of conflict models. It has been my position that all conflict models tend to distort reality to some extent - some more than others.
A second question regards how many conflict models approach conflict from an individual approach rather than cultural. Does this assume that conflict can be resolved when those who in conflict have time, geographical or hierarchical proximity with each other, and possess understanding of the conflict. Is there an implicit assumption that a thorough understanding of the conflict results in resolution?
My experience (i.e., a seductive bias) has led me to premise that self-interest tends to trump almost all known values. If this premise is accurate or acceptable, then what models resolve self-interest - not just understand it?

GDM Outcome Depends on 23 Aspects of Human System
srinivas, Lecturer, India, Member
There is a relationship between the outcome (and execution) of the decision making and 23 aspects of the human system (sleep, hunger, reflection, craving etc.). If the above aspects are given due respect in self and others involved in the decision making process then the resulting decision and execution will be better.
Can we establish a mathematical model and measure each aspect and its influence on the decision making?
For example, it is known in QA and testing that when you seek out teams which are lacking in sleep, you find more defects in the delivery of that team.
Similarly, if we do not respect a deep craving in a person, then it will also result in defective decision making and execution.

Group Conflict Management
NVDS.RAJU, Professor, India, Member
Group conflicts on matters of importance is a welcome and healthy sign. Perhaps it will facilitate the entity to know the unknown risks and help to hedge against them.
Conflicting views are common in the ever changing world of business. Conflict management is an ART as much as a SCIENCE and requires skill in managing for the good of organization.

The Emotional Bank Account (EBA) versus Conflicts
Tan Poh Lip, Manager, Malaysia, Member
For me, conflict is happening everywhere in our personal and working life. Conflicts are a source of inspiration and encourage different ideas to keep our personal and working life in a continuing creative and innovative setting.
I strongly believe that the quality of the decision making in a group depends on the proper attitude of the individuals in it
For me, the 7 habits is a powerful tool to guide me to handle most of the conflicts in positive manners from the very beginning stage of Dependence on others, to the Independence stage to influence others with knowledge and experiences, and finally to reach the Interdependence stage which enable me to interact with more people in both work and personal groups to synergize all the conflicts.
Hence, through building the Emotional Bank Account (EBA) to handle conflicts and encourage group members to build the deposits through trust, seek first for understand, think Win-Win and synergize the ideas effectively in decision making to come out new and better solution.
Then, the 6TH approach will be effectively conducted by all group members and conflicts between members are likely to be synergized during the decision making.

How to Benefit from Conflicts in a Group
Ruwan Bandara, Manager, Sri Lanka, Member
I was delighted the different perspective post of all of us. This discussion forum is a great and classic example of conflict. Each of us has a unique way of thinking. We post different ideas to this common platform (12MANAGE). Thus we expand our thinking perspective further with other peoples' experiences and ideas.
As a result we grow intellectually and meanwhile the knowledge of management wisdom is gathered and shared.Our intuition of wisdom is greatly improved together.
When we thus manage our conflicts we can step up together for higher WISDOM.

If you think about it, conflicts are often caused by our belief system. We as human being not willing to say or accept that we do not KNOW. When we do not know something we have to believe it.
Conflict will occur if my belief system is different from others belief system.
But if we genuinely accept what we do not know as do not know. and question it with why, what, when, where, which, how etc. there will be no more CONFLICT or at least the conflicts end up with great outcomes.
In world history most conflicts happened because of not accepting other peoples' belief and fighting over that.
Even great conflicts like the green house effect can be solved if we step up together in shared way.

23 Aspects of the Human System
DANNY SUSIKWANA, Accountant, Zambia, Member
@srinivas: I find the reference to the 23 aspects (sleep, hunger, etc) a very insightful area. However I am not sure of what they are, except the 4 you already mentioned?
Kindly educate me on these and mention the impact on GDM of having a team member(s) who may be deficient or well supplied in each of the aspects. This could be the key to understanding the effectiveness of teams.

srinivas, Lecturer, India, Member
Please find here the requested list of human aspects which we can look into.
I think experiential based approach can be considered for the following: Each and every person has the following aspects which when ignored in themselves and others that are involved in decision making can lead to wrong results:
1. Volition
2. Illusion of existence
3. Awareness
4. Intellect
5. Sleep
6. Hunger
7. Reflection
8. Power
9. Craving
10. Forbearance
11. Class (Genus)
12. Modesty
13. Peace
14. Faith
15. Brilliance (Light)
16. Affluence
17. Skill (Vocation)
18. Memory
19. Compassion
20. Contentment
21. Creativity
22. Delusion (Error).

The Emotional Bank Account and 6TH
Gary Wong, Consultant, Canada, SIG Leader
@Tan Poh Lip: The Emotional Bank Account (EBA) is a metaphor for measuring the level of Trust in a relationship. The idea is to make deposits into the EBA to build the balance and avoid withdrawals which can lead to bankruptcy:
- Being respectful, listening, sharing air time are examples of deposits.
- Interrupting, arguing, using abusive language are withdrawals.

The Six Thinking Hats method encourages EBA deposits to be made. When everyone wears the same Hat at the same time, the ability to make a withdrawal is virtually eliminated. As EBA balances increase, personal conflict issues will diminish.

With personal conflicts out of the way, groups that use 6TH as a norm will find that their GDM will improve. The beauty is that diverse perspectives can be obtained without the need for argument.

The Purpose of Group Decision Making
kvssiyer, Consultant, India, Member
The very purpose of group decision making is to make certain the decision arrived at is the result of evaluating the quality of decisions from all angles.
In that process the decision becomes actionable and when implemented gives maximum value to the whole group.
This becomes possible as each member puts forward his or her view for and against each view point. In this process the negative effects are progressively eliminated and positive effects are multiplied.
GDM is most effective when all the members of the team are selfless and independent in their views.

Role of Impressions in Subconscious Mind in Decision Making
srinivas, Lecturer, India, Member
I agree @Emotion Bank Account deposits have a role in the group discussion in case of decision making. Also, too many withdrawals that can lead to bankruptcy.
However I think there is a role of impressions in the subconscious mind on the decision making at the individual level and at group level.
For example, in a group decision after some time of discussion, people tend to act in a way that is unique to their nature. Which in turn depends on the impressions that are there in the subconscious mind.
Is there a way wherein the effect of these impressions can be disassociated? If yes how?

Avoiding Emotional Conflicts in Group Decision Making
melchiorre calabrese, Manager, Italy, Member
The problem of relationship conflicts must be solved upstream, in the sense that I will explain below.
All those who are going to be involved in solving a problem should be chosen taking into account the following 3 factors:
A. They must be free from preconceived ideas about the problem under discussion.
B. None of them should be motivated by desire of personal prominence.
C. Each member of the group must have a limited passionate interest to the problem, but at the same time must be able to maintain a strong attitude to a rational approach.
Only under these conditions each member of the group will be able to put at the disposal of the group his skills in order to best solve the problem.
These observations bring the front of the management responsibility to perceive the existence of a problem BEFORE it assumes characteristics such as to prevent the existence conditions "A", "B", and "C" in the Group.

Preconceived Notions in Group Decision Making
srinivas, Lecturer, India, Member
@melchiorre calabrese: I completely agree with you with regard to A, B and C.
However in order to achieve the above, the participants should have an almost child like attitude. Being adults, how do we achieve that state where the people discussing do not have preconceived notions, biases and are disassociated with past impressions?
This is not simple, yet is it achievable?

Preconceived Notions in Group Decision Making
melchiorre calabrese, Manager, Italy, Member
@Srinivas: Thanks for your consideration! Please, think deeply about what I am telling you:
A person has really a great mind if, despite having knowledge and practical experience, (s)he is able to tackle any problem with his mind "clean", that is "free" of what he believes to know. This is the basis for finding effective and innovative solutions. In this sense it is necessary to return to a "child"-state.
In order to give to the group more creative solutions and in the meanwhille to have a better acceptance of others, many of my co-workers and students are able to achieve "deliberately" its intellectual transformation from "adult" to "baby" by appropriate training.
The fundamentals of such a training program must be:
- A good and consistent example by top management;
- Theoretical exercises tending to show that what seems obvious is not always reasonable;
- The conduct of the meetings must be entrusted to managers being truly expert in the involved techniques.

Revisiting the Purpose of the Six Thinking Hats
Gary Wong, Consultant, Canada, SIG Leader
@Melchiorre calabrese, srinivas:
I appreciate your thought provoking comments. Permit me revisit why the Edward de Bono created 6TH in the first place.
Through his travels Dr. De Bono discovered that many group discussions were very inefficient. There was too much arguing, interrupting, defending happening for his liking. But he also recognized that individuals brought their own level of maturity, expertise, biases, trust, perceived self-value to the table. He wanted to somehow harness the energy that was present and convert from a negative discussion into a constructive dialogue.
He chose the Hat as a metaphor for their ability to be put on and taken off and Colours to signify the type of thinking desired at a specific time. The real power of 6TH comes from the process of Parallel Thinking when everyone in the room wears the same hat and thinks the same way at the same time.

6TH does not set pre-conditions who can or canít participate. On the contrary, the goal is to have everyone fully participate as best as he or she can and contribute collectively to the group.
Edward purposely designed 6TH to be learned easily and quickly in 5 minutes. At a 6TH course, the additional time is spent practising hat switching and learning how to select and build hat sequences.
One time I walked into a meeting full of strangers. Within 15 minutes I had them productively engaged in resolving an issue. All that I had done was give them a one-pager handout showing the 6 hats with short descriptions. I could feel various levels of ego, antagonism, fear in the room but 6TH enabled them to work together.

I truly believe anyone who has the courage to proactively use 6TH can have a similar experience. I would love to hear some stories from folks who have.

Black & White Hat Together
Ruwan Bandara, Manager, Sri Lanka, Member
@Gary Wong: This idea is not wrong. Using Six Hats in this situation is a great idea. Why most managers are failing is due to the fact that they not know the art & science of using the Black and White Hats simultaneously or in parallel way.
Black & white is not real in the world. All is relative. Every managerial action has operational perspectives and strategical perspectives. Managers must know how to assess a situation with strategic hat and operation hat in an appropriate mix. This mixing is an art or rather science. Your intuition or wrong experiences may teach you the right mix.

If Black is operational or White is analogize to strategy remember to wear both of these hats always or make one hat that is half black and half white.

Colours Can Have Different Meanings
Gary Wong, Consultant, Canada, SIG Leader
Hi, everyone. Ruwan and I have been messaging each other on our personal pages. A couple of points have arisen:
1. 6Th works well for GDM ranging from strategic to operational. What will be different is the content and context under each Hat selected in a Hat sequence.
2. Each person is unique and can have a different reaction to a particular colour. Edward De Bono uses Red to denote emotion, passion; think of fire. But we know Red also means good luck and happiness. The 6TH is used worldwide so I surmise (Editor: ~assume) groups have put aside their personal affinities and agreed to use the colour hat definitions Edward has created.

Conflict Resolution at the Level of Consciousness in Decision Making in Groups
srinivas, Lecturer, India, Member
I'd like to enhance and clarify my earlier @reaction a bit:Thought conflict arises first internally in the minds of people at the level of sub consciousness, because of the past impressions which are there in subconscious mind.
Is it possible to disassociate the effect at the subconscious by means of directing the energy of the group towards the spirit behind the objective of discussion?
If yes, how can that energy be directed so that it gets aligned with the spirit of the objective of the discussion or meeting?
Should we go beyond emotional level and thinking level in order to achieve this?

Special Interest Group Leader
Gary Wong

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