I am not a fan of conflict. I’d prefer to have zero conflicts in my life, both my personal life and my professional life.
My preference however is unrealistic because conflicts are a part of life. They happen! As a matter of fact, if you have a pulse and interact with other human beings then you will have conflicts too.
Some people will go to extreme lengths to avoid conflict. I think they avoid them because they believe all conflicts lead to poor outcomes. They have so little confidence in their own communication skills that they fear losing control of their emotions and making the situation that originally caused the conflict even worse.
That’s a challenging way to go through life for anyone. If you have that challenge and you’re in a leadership position then it’s far more than a challenge, it can be a disaster.
Unresolved conflict leads directly to unreached potential. Let me repeat that in case you missed it… unresolved conflict leads directly to unreached potential. Directly!
If you’re a leader who avoids conflict then you’re a limited leader at best. You can make great decisions, hire the right people, build solid products, and be liked by everyone. What you can’t do is lead your people and your organization to their full potential.
It’s like seeing $40 on the ground and bending down to pick up $20, hoping that somebody else will pick up the other $20 and put it to use. You just left half of your potential “find” lay there. Hope may sound nice in a speech but I’m sorry to say, it’s a real crappy business strategy.
Leaders cannot simply hope the conflict resolves itself. Conflicts seldom disappear, they just simmer below the surface causing havoc in your organization. If you don’t care enough about your people to proactively, compassionately resolve conflicts then you likely don’t care enough to truly lead.
Conflict resolution is a vital skill that leaders need to learn.
If you view conflict as dangerous, it tends to become a self-fulfilling prophecy. When you go into a conflict situation already feeling threatened, it’s tough to deal with the issue in a healthy and productive way. Instead, you are more likely to shut down or blow up in anger.
Conflict elicits strong emotions and often leads to hurt feelings and disappointment. When handled in an unhealthy manner, it can cause irreparable harm, resentments, and long-lasting distrust. When conflict is resolved in a healthy and productive way, it increases your understanding of the other person, builds trust, and strengthens relationships. This is true in both your personal and professional lives.
Effective leaders possess the capacity to recognize and respond to the things that matter to the other person. They respond in a calm, non-defensive, and respectful manner. The are ready to forgive and forget if necessary and they are able to move past the conflict without holding on to resentment. Effective leaders know that compromise is not a dirty word and that while accountability may play a role in conflict management, punishing does not.
Authentic servant leaders hold the belief that facing conflict head on is the best thing for both sides. When dealing with conflict they care enough to listen with more than just their ears. They “tune-in” to the other person to completely understand what they are saying and why they are saying it.
When people are upset, the words they use often don’t convey the real issues at the heart of the conflict. When you listen for what is felt—as well as what is said—you have the opportunity to truly understand where the other person is coming from.
When you’re in the middle of a conflict, paying close attention to the other person’s nonverbal signals may help you figure out what the other person is really saying, This lets you to respond in a way that builds trust, and get to the heart of the problem. A calm tone of voice or an interested facial expression can go a long way towards relaxing a tense exchange.
Here are a few more points to consider before attempting to resolve a conflict:
Think resolution rather than winning or “being right.” Remember, if you win then somebody else loses. If somebody feels like they have been defeated then they may withdraw for a while but the conflict still exists.
Focus on the now. If you’re holding on to grudges based on past resentments, your ability to see the reality of the current situation will be impaired. Resolve the current conflict, don’t rehash old ones.
Let something go. If you can’t come to an agreement, agree to disagree. It takes two people to keep an argument going. If a conflict is going nowhere, it is okay to disengage and move on.
I firmly believe the worst thing you can do when it comes to conflict management or hopefully, conflict resolution, is nothing. If you actually intend to lead then you must face this challenge head-on, in a caring and thoughtful way.
It’s how Authentic Servant Leaders deal with conflict!