You can meditate 4000 years, but if avoidance is at the root of it, you won’t be free. ~ Papaji
People often ask me where my ideas for blog topics come from. I tell them that I just write about “stuff” I read, see in the news, and hear and see around me. Sometimes however a blog post is just me talking to myself and letting other people “listen” in… this is one of those blog posts.
I do not like conflict! I am not however a conflict avoider. That pretty much puts me where I need to be to successfully deal with workplace and life conflict. I’d rather not deal with conflicts but I will if I have to and knowing what I know about Authentic Leadership if I intend to audaciously continue to attempt to help others improve their own leadership skills I most certainly have to.
I have to because conflict engagement and resolution are key leadership skills. Leaders who avoid conflict at any cost simply don’t understand that the costs are very real.
By the way, just an aside here… if you’re thinking to yourself right now that you actually like conflict then I have some bad news for you. Liking conflict almost always means that you aren’t very good at resolving it.
Avoiding conflict often causes resentment and misunderstanding, – emotions that when left alone, have a tendency to fester. Nothing is heard the way the conflict avoider intends it to be heard. The conflict avoider says one thing but the other person doesn’t understand the emotions it was said with so they hear something else. That leads to distrust. An environment of distrust frequently influences turnover and productivity which then negatively impact profitability. The issues that cause conflicts rarely go away or solve themselves. They usually just get bigger, and bigger, and bigger. They also get more and more expensive.
People being people means there will always be a need for conflict resolution. Conflict comes from differences of opinions, ideas, and perceptions that are exchanged every day. Every Day! That’s a whole lot of opportunity for conflicts to arise.
So, you’ll either learn to deal with conflict in a constructive way or you will fail as a leader. It’s just that simple.
When handled correctly conflicts actually strengthen an organization. The communication and trust that comes from effective conflict resolution builds trusting relationships between a leader and their people.
It’s the handling correctly part that causes so many people to avoid conflict. They just don’t know where to begin.
A great place to begin is with the other person’s interests. Why do they think the way they think? What are their motives? What are their objectives? Put yourself in their shoes and if you do it sincerely you’ll have a much better understanding of their emotions and it’s that understanding that will help you control your own emotions.
Look for solutions, not more conflict. Never forget that even complex problems can have a relatively simple solution when emotions are set aside. Simple doesn’t mean easy but at least simple is doable.
When dealing with conflict I need to keep three principles from Dale Carnegie’s great book “How to Win Friends and Influence People” in mind.
The only way to get the best of an argument is to avoid it. If a leader allows an attempt at conflict resolution to turn into an argument then the leader has messed up. They need to reconvene the attempt when emotions have settled down a bit.
Give the other person a fine reputation to live up to. Most people will strive to meet the expectations of others. If you go into an attempt at conflict resolution looking for a fight then you are likely to get one. If you are expecting the other person to also seek a positive resolution then they very likely will.
Use encouragement. Make the fault seem easy to correct. Never make a problem bigger than it is. As a leader if you’re trying to influence someone out of a bad idea or a poor practice then make the mistake or idea seem easy to fix. Share examples of your own past mistakes and how your changed your thinking to change the outcome. Encourage them to do the same.
Always show compassion for the other person’s feelings, thoughts and ideas. They may appear totally wrong to you but to the other person they are absolutely right.
If you’re in a leadership position and you practice conflict avoidance then you may have the position but you’re not leading. The next time you have the opportunity to resolve conflict look at it as an opportunity for growth. Work to resolve the issue in a way that demonstrates respect, value, and security for every person involved.
Conflict doesn’t have to cost, it can be a tremendous opportunity to grow your people while growing your own leadership skills. All it takes it a decision to try.