The Vital Importance of Conflict Resolution

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!

13 thoughts on “The Vital Importance of Conflict Resolution

  1. Thank you for this post. An empathetic approach to understanding conflict can go a long way towards creating respectful workplaces. When we have the patience to address conflict the right way, we’ll find that their will be more understanding between coworkers and management and the risk of conflict in the workplace will decrease.

  2. EXCELLENT post Steve! And this one is very high up on my pet peeve list.

    You wrote:

    ‘If you don’t care enough about your people to proactively, compassionately resolve conflicts then you likely don’t care enough to truly lead.’

    I realize NONE of us are perfect. There is no perfect leader walking on the planet. We ALL make mistakes. We ALL mess up from time to time. We ALL have various strengths and weaknesses that are part of our individual personalities and character that help us excel at some things and limit our progress and success and others.

    That said, I can’t tell you how tired I am of running into people in positions of leadership or people who CLAIM to be leaders (meaning…they put themselves in that position and so people presume they are genuine leaders), can write up one side and down the other about integrity, conflict resolution, courageous communication, and yet….

    I generally don’t experience these same people actually DOING what they teach, preach, and write about.

    And frankly, I’m sick of it.

    I’m tired of people CLAIMING to be such great leaders who do nothing more then steal ideas of others out of the books they read, reword it and pawn it off as their own ‘genuine’ wisdom, yet don’t know the first THING about applying it to their very own life in PRACTICE!

    What a concept!

    Leaders, if you TEACH on conflict resolution and courageous conversations, and write about it…if you are KNOWN in cyberspace as being some ‘expert’ on these topics yet I can’t ever catch you USING any of this ‘wisdom’ that seems to be limited to ‘head space’ only or because that’s what everyone else happens to be writing about to….

    You aren’t doing yourself or anyone else any favors.

    Steve, as you pointed out. I don’t like conflict either. Hate it. But I’d rather DEAL with it then have to contend with the WASTE of time and energy and the compounding loss in productivity over all that avoiding it costs all people involved.

    Not to mention the fact that avoidance is a major sign of immaturity. Even more important, a lack of conflict resolution points to a major lack of honesty in those areas of life and business that are avoided.

    If a leader thinks they are a person of integrity, they better think again if they are avoiding conflict….

    Where there is avoidance, there is major dishonesty going on….

    Thanks for an excellent post Steve.

    1. Sadly there are many “pretend” leaders in leadership positions. They seem to forget that it’s not what they say that makes them a leader, it’s what they do.

      It’s hard to listen to someone and tell if they are a genuine leader, you can watch them for a short time however and you can quickly see if they walk their talk. Better yet, watch their people, that’s where the real proof can be found.

  3. Fabulous article. You’re so right. It is totally better to face and resolve the conflict than to let it simmer. Unaddressed conflict never goes away; it just gets worse.

    However, if one’s conflict resolution skills are weak – at the moment – it might be better to go into a temporary holding pattern. Handling the conflict ineptly – with anger, judgement, resentment, etc. – can do irreparable harm. More harm, perhaps, than letting the conflict simmer.

    Of course, one way to develop conflict resolution skills is to jump in and try, but maybe try on a smaller problem than a bigger one. Work one’s way up. And, of course, there are always little conflicts brewing in one’s life to practice on!

    1. Excellent point, sometimes if we are unprepared to address the conflict or the situation which has caused the conflict, we can do more harm than good. I like your idea of “practicing” on small conflict and agree, there are plenty of them to practice on 🙂

  4. Steve, good post – in working with people and conflict, I always point out that conflict is inevitable – combat is optional.
    Best regards,

    1. I like that – combat is optional! It’s a great point and says a lot about our own mindset as we prepare to deal with conflict… if you expect a fight you’re likely to get one. If you expect a healthy interaction you’re likely to get that as well.

      1. This is an excellent article. I know I struggle with this (pride & ego) but I’ve learned something valuable today.

  5. I can’t remember a single time when proving myself right or someone wrong was worth it.

    WAIT, there was one time when I lost a government bid on an RFP for CAD/CAM equipment and software. I told the buyers the solution that was low bid didn’t meet the spec. After further review, they concurred, rewrote the RFP, and I got the biz.

    Other than that. I can’t remember a single business or personal situation where there was upside to proving a point.

    1. I know what you mean. I’ve never “won” an argument – I’ve proven I was right, I’ve proven I was maybe smarter and I’ve proven someone else was less experienced – but it was always at the cost of someone’s dignity – I hadn’t really won a thing, just exposed the jerk in me.

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