Peace is not the absence of conflict, it is the ability to manage conflict with peaceful means.- Ronald Reagan
Ask any new manager to rank what they fear or dislike most about man-management and you are likely to find “dealing with conflict” is high on their list. However, effective conflict management is probably one of the key abilities great managers must have. Some degree of conflict at work is inevitable. Indeed I would argue that a certain amount of conflict is healthy for an organization as each conflict moment – dealt with well – offers the individuals involved an opportunity to realign their feelings and find even greater understanding than before.
Conflict resolved well offers those involved the chance to find common ground again.
The first thing about dealing with conflict is to face it head on before it explodes into something much bigger as procrastination with a brewing people situation is a sure way to management suicide. It is also important to depersonalize your opinion on the situation, separating what you think and feel from how you need, as a leader, to act. Also believing in a third way – a win/win – scenario that can satisfy all involved parties is also important.
Delaying dealing with conflict is a common failure of inexperienced managers.
Jo Owen in his “Leadership Handbook” presents a handy guideline for dealing with conflict arguing that we need to turn the “FEAR” of the conflict into the “EAR” of consensus. When we give into “fear” our first action is to flee, or in terms of conflict, avoid dealing with it. Inevitably the conflict will reemerge, usually in a more emotive way and often in a more challenging moment, both a sure starting point for making those involved more defensive. A defensive reaction is to fight back and usually in an emotional way, something that will make us argue over seeking compromise. Frequently scenarios like this are likely to end in retaliation and anger over compromise and understanding.
Our “ear” is of course used for listening, an action which can be a starting point for understanding others and resolving conflict. An “E.A.R” approach is one where “Fear” is removed and rather than flee the conflict we face it head on. Actively approaching conflict resolution makes us measure and control our response to it, leading to empathy which naturally encourages reciprocation. Mutual empathy makes it much easier to agree on the existing issue and once agreement over the source is reached, it is natural to move onto working together to resolving the issue. An “E.A.R.” approach can become a team response and even a team culture.
Dealing with conflict is a necessary part of leadership. Learn to listen, seek agreement and focus on resolution over finger pointing. Seek the “E.A.R” approach over fearing and hence postponing dealing with it. Once you become good at conflict resolution, you can turn challenging explosive moments into opportunities, as conflict well dealt with, is an opportunity to join your team together over pushing it apart. Great leaders face conflict head on, great leaders welcome the opportunity to resolve conflict.