Leadership is about people. And when people are involved, you can bet that conflict can and will be something every leader needs to be able to address. Unfortunately, it can be tempting to dismiss or even avoid conflict situations when they occur. Here are five strategies that can help you improve your ability to not only address conflict but emerge from it with a more engaged workforce.
Strategy #1 – Don’t assign meaning to what someone else has said or done. When conflict occurs, it is tempting to see it through our filter of understanding. We give meaning to what happened based on our limited knowledge and experience. Instead, engage with the person or persons involves and ask them to explain the situation. By asking questions and listening before assigning meaning, you leave the door open to deeper understanding.
Strategy #2 – Don’t Rush to Judgment. We all have bias. Bias is a closely held mental model based on your experiences and values, that allows you to sort quickly through a lot of data to make quick decisions about things. When conflict occurs, it can trigger a confirmation bias and cause us to rush to judgment. In other words, what just happened confirms what I already thought to be true. Once you judge, you make it much more challenging to get things back on track. Instead, suspend judgment until you have the facts and have heard the other person’s point of view.
Strategy #3 is Mind the Gap. This strategy will serve you well in all communication, not just in conflict situations. Between the stimulus (someone saying or doing something) and your response to that stimulus, there is a gap. You get to choose the size of the gap between when someone says or does something and when you speak. The smaller the gap in time, the more it’s a reaction. The larger the gap in time, the more it’s a response. I find my reactions are generally not that positive and can make matters worse. A response is more thought out and leads to a better outcome. Use the gap to breathe, to think, and not rush to judgment.
Strategy #4 – Express Unconditional Positive Regard. How you see someone will determine how you interact with them. If you can have unconditional positive regard for people, even when they mess up and conflict occurs, you see them in a positive light as you work through the challenge. If you can separate the offense that caused the conflict from the person involved in the offense, you can address the issue while maintaining positive regard for the person.
Strategy #5 – Acknowledge the Intention/Perception Gap (I/P Gap). Simply put, the I/P Gap is when someone says or does something is perceived by others in a way you did not intend. This happens often. You meant something one way, but others perceive it another way. When this happens, conflict is often the result. Author Brian Tracy teaches that each of us needs to take responsibility for UNDERSTANDING and for BEING UNDERSTOOD. This requires an intentional approach to communication that can help reduce the I/P Gap on your team.
Conflict is inevitable, but it does not need to negatively affect your team, their level of engagement, and your ability to deliver remarkable results. What makes a leader great is the ability to recognize conflict, address, and move past it, all while retaining the relationships that are so important to the engagement level of your team.
Perry Holley is a coach and facilitator with the John Maxwell Company’s Corporate Solutions Group as well as a published author. He has a passion for developing others and seeing people grow into the leaders they were intended to become.