Here’s the thing – leadership and conflict go hand-in-hand. Leadership is a full-contact sport, and if you cannot or will not address conflict in a healthy, productive fashion, you should not be in a leadership role. From my perspective, the issues surrounding conflict resolution can be best summed-up by adhering to the following ethos; ”Don’t fear conflict; embrace it – it’s your job.” While you can try and avoid conflict (bad idea), you cannot escape conflict. The fact of the matter is conflict in the workplace is unavoidable. It will find you whether you look for it (good idea – more later) or not. The ability to recognize conflict, understand the nature of conflict, and to be able to bring swift and just resolution to conflict will serve you well as a leader – the inability to do so may well be your downfall.
So, what creates conflict in the workplace? Opposing positions, competitive tensions, power struggles, ego, pride, jealousy, performance discrepancies, compensation issues, just someone having a bad day, etc. While the answer to the previous question would appear to lead to the conclusion that just about anything and everything creates conflict, the reality is that the root of most conflict is either born out of poor communication or the inability to control one’s emotions.
- Define Acceptable Behavior
You know what they say about assuming…Just having a definition for what constitutes acceptable behavior is a positive step in avoiding conflict. Creating a framework for decisioning, using a published delegation of authority statement, encouraging sound business practices in collaboration, team building, leadership development, and talent management will all help avoid conflicts. Having clearly defined job descriptions so that people know what’s expected of them, and a well articulated chain of command to allow for effective communication will also help avoid conflicts. Clearly and publicly make it known what will and won’t be tolerated.
- Hit Conflict Head-on
While you can’t always prevent conflicts, it has been my experience that the secret to conflict resolution is in fact conflict prevention where possible. By actually seeking out areas of potential conflict and proactively intervening in a just and decisive fashion you will likely prevent certain conflicts from ever arising. If a conflict does flair up, you will likely minimize its severity by dealing with it quickly. Time spent identifying and understanding natural tensions will help to avoid unnecessary conflict.
- Understanding the WIIFM Factor
Understanding the other professionals WIIFM (What’s In It For Me) position is critical. It is absolutely essential to understand other’s motivations prior to weighing in. The way to avoid conflict is to help those around you achieve their objectives. If you approach conflict from the perspective of taking the action that will help others best achieve their goals you will find few obstacles will stand in your way with regard to resolving conflict.
- The Importance Factor
Pick your battles and avoid conflict for the sake of conflict. However if the issue is important enough to create a conflict then it is surely important enough to resolve. If the issue, circumstance, or situation is important enough, and there is enough at stake, people will do what is necessary to open lines of communication and close positional and/or philosophical gaps.
- View Conflict as Opportunity
Hidden within virtually every conflict is the potential for a tremendous teaching/learning opportunity. Where there is disagreement there is an inherent potential for growth and development. If you’re a CEO who doesn’t leverage conflict for team building and leadership development purposes you’re missing a great opportunity. Divergent positions addressed properly can stimulate innovation and learning in ways like minds can’t even imagine. Smart leaders look for the upside in all differing opinions.
Bottom line…I believe resolution can normally be found with conflicts where there is a sincere desire to do so. Turning the other cheek, compromise, forgiveness, compassion, empathy, finding common ground, being an active listener, service above self, and numerous other approaches will always allow one to be successful in building rapport if the underlying desire is strong enough. However, when all else fails and positional gaps cannot be closed, resolve the issue not by playing favorites, but by doing the right thing.