Most days, a leader doesn’t need to look far to find an opportunity for conflict. You might be introducing a new change initiative, and someone doesn’t like it. Or, one of your team members makes an inappropriate comment to a client, and now the client wants to speak with you. Perhaps a team member was unprepared for the customer presentation you attended, and now you need to confront the team member. Or your boss is angry about something and needs to see you immediately. Even though conflict may be waiting for you at the next turn, it doesn’t need to be something that you delay or avoid. Strong leaders can step up to conflict and use it to increase engagement and deliver results.

A Leader Superpower

A superpower of great leaders is the ability to see, embrace, and diffuse conflict before it can disrupt the team and derail the progress you are making. Strong leaders can use their conflict management superpower to communicate a more positive message by addressing the situation head-on.

The Six “S” Approach to Managing Conflict

  1. Separate the offense from the person. Be clear on the problem you are addressing. If you can see your teammate with positive regard and address the action or attitude that is the real problem, you can solve the conflict and save the relationship.
  2. See it from both sides. While it may seem quite clear what happened, be open to hearing from the individuals involved. Don’t make quick judgments. Instead, ask questions and Listen before determining next steps.
  3. Separate emotion from the mix. Emotions could already be escalating when you enter the situation; adding your emotion to it will not help. Focus on the facts and your desired outcome to reduce the role emotion plays in the situation.
  4. Suggest a way forward. It’s tempting to get caught in a back and forth about the situation without ever getting creative about how to move forward. Channel the energy that is created in the conflict situation toward creatively moving toward your desired outcome.
  5. Signal positive intent. When either party in a conflict situation feel that they must defend themselves against the other party, progress toward a solution will be more difficult. Monitor your words and body language to ensure you communicate a positive intent to solve the problem, not to simply win or be right. 
  6. Secure the relationship going forward. Great leaders go out of their way to preserve the relationship when conflict arises. If you win the conflict but lose the relationship, you really haven’t won anything. Trust may have been destroyed, and disengagement will result.

Conflict does not need to be something you avoid. In fact, if you do avoid conflict situations, you will most likely see the problem again. When you step up to conflict using the “Six S” approach, you not only move toward positive resolution, you maintain trust and buy-in from the individuals on 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.