Constructive Conflict can be Healthy

It might be in a relationship with a friend or a loved one. It might be between you and a co-worker, or you and a boss, or the leader of an organization, or even your direct reports. In all of these relationships conflict is inevitable.

It is a very important that we as leaders, learn how to overcome and deal with conflict. Many of us try to avoid it, but I have learned over time that if you don’t deal with conflict, conflict will deal with you. Let me say that another way. If you don’t confront conflict; if you don’t get into the mud puddle or in the sand pit and deal with those whom you are not seeing eye–to-eye with, then sooner or later that conflict will come to your door step. So don’t you think that it is better to deal with the conflict on your terms, than on its terms?

Here are the three foundational steps for conflict resolutions:

  • Listen Empathetically. Oftentimes when you deal with conflict, emotions are high. Have you noticed that? When someone is frustrated with another person, it is difficult to negotiate well. Navigating through this is not easy; including dealing with your own emotions. The key to beginning the resolution process is attempting to understand where the other individual is coming from. You don’t do business with other businesses; you do business with other people. You don’t manage a department; you manage people. You don’t manage projects;  you manage people. People are human. They have foibles, fragilities, issues and problems. All people have drama in their lives. If you are going to lead, you must be able to listen and hear what they have to say. As you begin this dialogue, take a deep breath and listen empathetically. Look the individual in the eye and then repeat back to them what you think they said to you. You may be surprised to find that you heard something different. This process will bring a measure of understanding. You will be surprised to see how the communication channels will open up drastically.
  • Focus on the discussion at hand. It is important, that as you enter into a dialogue, you find a neutral environment. If necessary, close the door. Have a private moment. Heated topics are awkward to have in public. Then focus on what they are saying. Leave your cell phone somewhere else or turn it off. YOu will also want to eliminate any other distractions, including pagers, laptops, Ipads, etc. People know when they have your attention. Begin the dialogue looking straight into their eyes. Eyes are truly the windows to the soul. They will then understand that you are interested in them. In that moment, as a leader, as a manager, as their supervisor, or as their friend, they become the most important person in the world.
  • Come to the meeting with an open mind and be prepared to end with a win-win agreement. If you go into the meeting knowing that you are going to have to compromise, you will typically find a compromise. Begin with that frame work and determine that at the end of the meeting, you will have a win-win agreement. So, what’s a win-win agreement? It is simply you agreeing with the other person on what your go forward action plan will be. Let’s say for example, you have an employee, that is routinely late, causing you frustration. But perhaps they are late because of child care needs, or another point of conflict. At the end of the meeting, maybe come to an agreement that they will start work thirty minutes later and end work thirty minutes later. There, the conflict is resolved, win-win. Remember, as a leader, you need to be ready to make reasonable compromises.

So let’s review the foundational aspects of conflict resolution. First, listen empathetically. Remember, it’s important that they know you understand their needs. Second, focus on the discussion at hand; don’t be distracted by cell phones, e-mails, or other employees. Third, be prepared to come to a win-win agreement. Be ready to compromise.

Conflict is part of life and you always need to work towards resolution. Dealing with conflict in an open and a calm environment is the way to gain respect and is also a way to enjoy life. As leader, let’s live our lives abundantly, influencing others positively and even ending conflicts with joy.

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