In working with some of the best and brightest C-Suite and emerging leaders, it becomes clear quickly which leaders are comfortable with conflict and which ones aren’t. Some struggle painstakingly in working through the rationalization of whether to have the conversations required to push through disagreement, while others eat conflict for breakfast every day. The second group often shares the liberating effects for themselves as well as their relationships that benefit from the transparency, vulnerability and openness that emerges.
In unpacking the following two questions, we may be able to push aside our fears to have the conversations needed that can change our typical approach in handling conflict.
- What makes conflict painful for some while others embrace it?
- How can we gain more comfort and confidence in approaching and dealing with conflict?
Personal Perception – How a leader perceives conflict can be a key factor. Those who view conflict as an argument, a fight or a confrontation are less eager to engage in conversations that elicit differing points of view. Those who feel it’s a form of communication necessary to expose divergent perceptions or opinions move into conflict more easily. It’s more palatable when viewed as a necessary conversation. The outcome will either be we agree, we disagree, or, we agree to disagree.
Hard-wiring of Strengths – Strengths-based coaches and the Gallup organization, creators of the world-renowned StrengthsFinder™ can assert those who are lower in a natural-born strength like Harmony, or higher in the Command strength can more comfortably move into conflict. Conversely, those who have Harmony as a top 5-10 strength may not press into differing points of view as quickly. However, there are likely other strengths available to those individuals to help rescue the strengths that may fear or avoid conflict.
Organizational Culture – Some organizational cultures embrace conflict while others delay and may even ignore it altogether. Passive aggressive behaviors such as going around those who may disagree with us can become the norm. Crucial conversations™ may be dodged with the hope the issue will go away, or, be handled through the back door. The more leaders encourage disagreement in high stakes, highly emotional situations, the safer everyone feels about addressing and pushing through areas of conflict. Leaders must pave the way in modeling and reinforcing an open approach, so that conflict is a natural part of the cultural fabric.
Getting Comfortable with Conflict
Alter the Defining Narrative
As noted earlier, when we shift our perception about what conflict really is, it can seem less daunting. In addition, we can change up our pre-determined narrative about the person or the situation by inviting clarification as one way to gain greater insight into the dynamic. This can help remove the emotion often felt in difficult conversations. Objectivity without the emotion helps us get to resolution more quickly and easily. By operating with a pure spirit of intrigue, it can assure the other person we want to understand their perspective vs. swaying them to ours.
Visualize the Other Side and Move Ahead
In endurance sports training, we often say “the dreading is worse than the doing.” Some days the enthusiasm or desire for facing a long run or ride just can’t be found. However, after the workout and having pushed through any temporary discomfort, the other side feels better than we thought or imagined. Conflict is similar. We sweat, we stress, we imagine the worst – and so we delay. Moving more quickly into the discussion reduces the probability the situation will escalate. And, on the other side, we usually realize the pay-off of addressing the issue has far outweighed the perceived price. We’re able to take the energy spent on worry and reallocate it to other items.
Recognize the Impact on Our Brand
Choosing to engage in conflict in a caring and courageous way can positively impact our brand integrity. The Gallup Q12 Employee Engagement Data consistently confirms authenticity and approachability as attributes we crave in leaders. We want to work with and for leaders who aren’t afraid of sitting in the mud. By choosing not to acknowledge or to minimize a divided situation, a leader’s respect and brand quotient may take an unwanted hit.
By shifting our mindset about conflict and pressing into it, we can gain the needed confidence to get both the issue and ourselves out of the way – for the greater good of the team and organization.