Conflict – a part of everyone’s life but a word many people love to hate, and situations many people avoid. Whenever we work with another person, or in a team, there is potential for conflict to arise.
I was coaching a client who needed to address a conflict situation in their office. During our session we worked through some strategies to help them do this, they practiced with me and said they would address it the next day. A few days later I reached out to them to follow-up and see how it went, and I got the silent treatment – they did not return my calls or emails. I suspected they were stuck in fear again, but I was persistent because I wanted to help them achieve the task they said they wanted to do. I continued to call them each day to follow-up. At the end of the week they called me “I’ve done it” they said. They told me it was the best dialogue experience they had in a long time, and the relationship with their colleague was stronger for going through the process and having the dialogue. They also said they were putting it off but because I kept calling, it helped them be accountable to their word, and take the action they said they would. It was great to see them have success in this situation.
I don’t like conflict either, nobody does! However I do enjoy a good learning dialogue and discussion to get issues resolved. And I do enjoy helping others do this. As much as we hope it does, conflict situations will not go away unless we deal with it. They impact us in relationship every day. And we often waste a lot of time and energy on the conflict, before we finally get the courage to deal with it.
So what is the best way to deal with conflict?
I like to use Mark Gerzon's book - Leading through Conflict, with clients when helping them deal with their situations. Mark describes three faces of leadership that arise when dealing with conflict – the Mediator, the Manager and the Demagogue:
- The Demagogue focuses on blaming others, using lies, intimidation and propaganda.
- The Manager is effective in their own turf, but doesn’t have the ability to discuss issues across organizational or community boundaries.
- The Mediator has the ability to see the bigger picture, strives to build trust, develop innovation and acts in the best interest of the organization, rather than its individual parts.
Each and every one of us has a choice of which leadership style we will use in a conflict situation. Which would you rather be?
There is no question the Mediator style of leadership is the best for dealing with conflict. We all, no matter what role in our organization, community, or home, have the ability to develop ourselves as a Mediator leader in conflict situations.
Interested to learn more? Gerzon offers these seven tools that will help…
- Develop integral vision. You need to be able to hold both sides of the conflict at the same time, and view them as a whole rather than individual parts. You are committed to acquiring as much information as you can, and understand the complexity of conflict situations, in your mind and your heart.
- Practice systems thinking. Systems thinking is about seeing the inter-relatedness and connectedness of significant elements. One action impacts another. Thinking systemically will allow you to see these connections and the bigger picture overall.
- Be wholeheartedly present. Present leaders engage their whole being – emotional, spiritual and mental – into seeing, feeling and transforming the conflict. They have a sense of purpose, commitment and calmness they bring to the conflict situation.
- Engage in inquiry. Instead of advocating for a position, mediator leaders are curious – they know they don’t know everything about the situation! They ask lots of questions to gain information that will eventually help transform the conflict.
- Be willing to have conscious conversations. Being intentional about how you show up in conversation is a leaders’ choice. Be willing to engage, and understand how you engage will have an immediate impact on the conversation.
- Have a dialogue. A dialogue is inquiry-based communication process that helps build trust. This two-way communication allows all parties to express their thoughts, feelings and ideas. It allows everyone to be heard and paves the way to finding common ground.
- Build a bridge. Bridging is about stepping across boundaries (organizational or other) to develop partnerships and alliances. Rather than standing ones’ ground, bridging is when all parties are willing to look for solutions together to transform the conflict.
Let’s take a pause here and note points 1-4 are all about mindset and how leaders are prepared to show up. No action has been taken yet, but there is an understanding that conflict is complex – no simple answer, no quick fix. It takes full wholehearted commitment, letting go of the ego, and acknowledging there is information that is not known to all. It takes a significant amount of reflection and intention to be ready to engage in action - steps 5-7.
Being an effective leader in a conflict situation is about fundamentally understanding everyone is a contributor to the conflict, and has the ability to assist in transforming the situation. Effective leaders will focus on the bigger picture, be intentional and present, engage in inquiry, conscious conversations and dialogue. They understand this situation is bigger than them. They understand it’s about letting go of ego and fear, embracing the heart and doing what is best for the organization.
Do you have a conflict situation you have been putting off and should help resolve? If so, what action will you take right now to do this?
If you need help and support, don't be afraid to reach out, I would be happy to have a chat!
Have an awesome day, Jo-Anne.