Leadership and Conflict: Deal With It Now or Pay For It Later

No one likes conflict (no one normal, at least). The feeling your body gets when it knows you have to address the awkward situations, the humongous elephant in the living room, or the long dreaded “talk.”

Dealing with conflict can sap the energy out of you, increase your stress, decrease your performance and your productivity.

In some cases, experiencing conflict can make you feel down right ill.

Labels and Leadership

It’s funny how some people are labeled or referred to as conflict – when in reality no one (in their right mind) would say they are conflict chasers. So now that I’ve merely reinforced what you already knew about conflict (that it stinks); why in the world am I writing about the importance of dealing with it?

My answer is simple; dealing with conflict is a mandatory part of leadership.

The Danger of Not Dealing with Conflict

Conflict can be like a virus; it will continue to aggressively spread as long as it is unattended to or passively addressed. As leaders we cannot afford to take passive approaches to dealing with conflict, nor can we avoid conflict and escape it’s impact.

As a good friend said recently,  “Let’s face it, awkward conversations are awkward. There’s never a time when they will not be awkward.”

This is often the approach many take when it comes to dealing with conflict;  I call this the “wait for the right time approach.” With this type of thinking, we convince ourselves that we’re trying to do what’s best by being considerate of the situation. Look I’m not saying be inconsiderate and ignore opportunities to best handle situations.  What I am saying is handle the situation! And handle it as quickly and diligently as possible.

When conflict is left unattended or avoided, it usually spreads its influence,  increases its intensity,  and deepens its complexity. Much like forest fires, un-addressed conflict will continue to cause more damage while becoming more difficult to handle.

Seeing Conflict from a Leader’s Perspective

While there are serious dangers to un-addressed or avoided conflict; a leader must also see conflict in the way that few are able to see it; as a necessary part of progress and growth. Leaders must remember that although conflict should not go unattended or avoided, it should also not be prevented.

Let me clarify: Conflict for conflict sake should be prevented and avoided at all cost because there is nothing of value in that.

However,  conflict for the sake of going through the healthy friction necessary for developing clarity and cohesiveness is essential to any team or organization. I have seen leaders and groups suffer because they did not understand this concept. They would have conflict, not deal with it, experience the consequences of doing nothing, and as a result try to prevent future conflicts from happening (which usually created conflicts anyway).

As a leader you must be able to recognize healthy conflict and unhealthy conflict AND be committed to addressing them appropriately and in a timely manner.

Practical/ Unorthodox Ways of Dealing with Conflict

1. On the count of 3. 1…2…3…GO!

If you find yourself avoiding and constantly putting it off. Don’t give yourself time to thinking about it..do it! Schedule a text message to request a time to speak with the person or better yet, just hit send now! Or pick up the phone and just dial their number and don’t give yourself time think about it (you’ll have enough thinking to do when they pick up). While there could a right time, there’s rarely ever a perfect time.

2. Create a Healthy Culture for Awkward Conversations

Have team members learn and practice critically critiquing team ideals and approaches together. Recognize and encourage individuals who ask the tough questions and constructively test the status quo of thinking. Pass on the mantra, “An awkward conversation will always be awkard…get use to never getting use to it.”

3. Allow Passion a Voice in the Room

Often people who engage in conflict are aggressive and passionate about their thoughts and views. Recognize passionate people’s passion, tell them that you value what they have to say because you value that they care.

Often this can reduce tension in the room because overly passionate people often don’t think people hear them or care about the issue as much as they do. This will help them see that you’re not enemies, but teammates fighting for the same cause

4. Address Conflict In a Solution Oriented Manner

Too often people say they’ve addressed conflict among team members or people by mentioning the issue publicly in an announcement to the group. This is talking about conflict not addressing conflict.

The goal is not to say, “I said something about it” but to see the conflict resolved to the best of your abilities.

Usually this means first addressing individuals on an one on one basis where dialog can take place.  In the context there should be more questions than statements being made to the individual with the goal of getting as much context about the situation as possible. Keep details of conversations confidential which allow people to really talk.

Address and correct accordingly, but leave the room valuing the individual no less as a result of your talk. This approach shows your personal care and your professionalism, which will help individuals see the importance and the benefit of addressing issues well.

Remember, dealing with conflict is one of the non-negotiables of leadership. Deal with them now, so you don’t have to pay for them later. I only prefer to pay for things that I actually want; I can assure you that conflicts are not on my wish list.

So I choose to deal with them instead!

So how do you deal with conflict as a leader? Do you tend to avoid it at all cost? Or do you tend to deal with it quickly? What are some ways that you can learn to better deal with conflict in the workplace that will yield better performance by everyone? I would love to hear your thoughts!

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———————–
Dr. Tommy Shavers

Dr. Tommy Shavers is President of Tommy Speak LLC. and Unus Solutions Inc.
His lenses are Teamwork, Leadership, and Communication
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Image Sources: brainalchemist.com

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6 responses to “Leadership and Conflict: Deal With It Now or Pay For It Later

  1. Great article, and awkward, is good word- and seems best improved, through transparency, being vulnerable and naiive listening ( listening not waiting to respond). Thanks Tommy

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you for the encouraging words! Yes I agree that a culture of normalcy can be created around doing hard and awkward things. Transparency is a huge component; not only to conflict intervention but conflict prevention as well! Thanks again!

      Like

  2. I also found that the longer the situation lingers, the wore it gets. Kind of like when you have a small weed in your lawn on Monday. If you wait until the next weekend to pull it our, you will find that many more have grown along with it, and now there are bad seeds everywhere.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Great point! When conflicts are not addressed in a timely fashion, issues become hard to contain. Before you know it there are not other issues that have developed as a result not keeping the issue contained by dealing with it quickly. Again great thoughts!

      Liked by 1 person

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