The Importance of Conflict Resolution Skills

Most people would tell you that conflict resolution skills are essential for all leaders. I absolutely agree with that. Authentic Leaders meet conflicts head on. They don’t avoid them, they work through them to build consensus in a way that is people valuing and face-saving.

For those Authentic Leaders conflict resolution skills are vital.

But most people in leadership positions are not Authentic Leaders. They count on their title and position to do the heavy lifting of leadership for them. Many of them remain in leadership positions for years never learning what Authentic Leadership looks like.

For those leaders few things are less important than conflict resolution skills. That’s because they avoid conflicts like the plague.

Most of those leaders would say they avoid conflict because they don’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings. They would say their relationship with their people is more important than dealing with conflicts. Some would say they do indeed deal with conflict but only when “the time is right.” The problem for those leaders is that they never find the right time.

What those leaders won’t tell you is that one big reason they refuse to engage in a conflict is because they lack the courage and the compassion to do so. Another reason is that they believe that have only two choices when it comes to conflict. Those choices are fight or flight.

Nearly 100% of the time they choose flight. The see any conflict as a potential fight and they want none of it. What these weaker leaders need to understand is that an Authentic Leader does not allow a conflict to become a fight. So they have no need for flight.

Authentic Leaders dislike conflict as much as anyone. That’s precisely the reason they meet the challenge of conflict head on… so that they can get rid of it. So that they and their people can learn from it. So that they and their people can grow closer because of it. So that it doesn’t simmer under the surface and undermine the morale of the conflicted parties and of all the people around them as well.

The reality is that no one actually avoids conflicts, but some people do attempt to live with them. But left unsettled conflict is an untreated cancer on both organizations and relationships.

If you’re serious about resolving conflicts you will listen far more than you talk. If your responses include any variation “yes but” it may indicate that you’re being defensive. We don’t listen very well when our defenses are up. So check yourself to be certain you’re willing to have your opinion changed. Authentic Leaders know that they can be wrong about pretty much anything, just like everyone else.

To effectively resolve any conflict leave your “blame game” at home. The original cause of a conflict is less important than the lasting resolution. When you place blame on people you cause them to disengage. All parties to a conflict MUST be part of the solution. Before you engage in conflict resolution ask yourself what your goal is… do you want to place blame or do you want to resolve the conflict.

It goes without saying that only one of those goals is productive. Authentic Leaders know which one.

Authentic Leaders are willing to compromise to find lasting solutions to conflicts. They demonstrate that while they may be passionate about their own point of view they value workable resolutions over “winning.” They in fact understand that “winning” requires all sides be able to resolve the conflict with their self-respect intact.

Authentic Leaders with excellent conflict resolution skills do not forget the importance of relationships. They realize that how they make the other people feel is just as important as the eventual resolution. That “feeling” will likely outlast the resolution. It will also impact, either positively and negatively, any attempts to resolve future conflicts.

No matter how fast and far you run you should know that the conflict you’re running from will be waiting for you when you get there. So don’t run. The sooner you deal with the conflict the sooner you can return to building healthy and productive relationships with your people.

That makes the effort required to successfully resolve conflicts well worth it.

Don’t Smooth Things Over

Courageous leaders don’t smooth things over. They don’t put band-aids on the symptoms of a problem. They don’t pretend “things” are okay when they know darn well they are not and they never ever expect that a problem will just fix itself. 

 

What courageous leaders do is make things right, even if sometimes that means plunging headfirst into conflict. 

 

There are and have been many a great leader who preferred to avoid conflict when possible but I can’t think of a single truly great leader from the past or present who avoids conflict at all costs. 

 

The most effective leaders know that “smoothing over” a problem isn’t much different than burying it under a rock. Sooner or later someone comes along and turns the rock over exposing the problem with all it’s rough edges on display once again. 

 

Weaker leaders avoid conflicts because to them conflict means emotionally charged turmoil and fights and disruption and drama. In the hands of a weak leader that’s probably true.

 

Under the guidance of an Authentic Leader, especially an Authentic Servant Leader, a conflict represents the opportunity for genuine learning and long-term growth. 

 

Authentic Servant Leaders meet conflict head-on with the compassion, integrity, and understanding that you would expect from such a leader. They know that the only way to get the best of an argument is to avoid it so they work diligently to lower relationship tension and the emotions that go with it. 

 

They lead the discussion with whatever facts are irrefutable to build common ground. They show empathy for every side of a conflict without minimizing the importance of anyone’s feelings. 

 

They want everyone involved in the situation to come out of it with their self-esteem and the conflict gone. 

 

When that works it’s a great accomplishment. But the truth is it doesn’t always work. 

 

When it doesn’t work the Authentic Servant Leader sets aside the Authentic Servant part and simply leads. If forced, they impose a solution that ends the conflict. They decide! They take action! That may mean some really bad stuff happens to someone involved in the conflict but the conflict is resolved and it’s resolved for good. 

 

Authentic Servant Leaders do not allow conflict to linger. Conflicts are like an organizational cancer. Leaders should help diagnose and treat the conflict but if it can’t be treated it must be removed. That will likely result in some injured feelings. Authentic Servant Leaders understand that at least a part of their organization may require some time to heal from an imposed solution. They also know that needing a little time to heal is far better than dealing with a slow burning conflict that never ends.

 

I firmly believe in helping everyone in an organization feel valuable and in continually building their self-esteem. But in every case, in every single case, the good of the many must outweigh the good of the one. 


Dealing with conflict is one of the biggest challenges for a true leader but it’s one they don’t run from, in fact, the very best leaders run to it.