Run Head-On Toward Conflict, Not Away
Dec. 18, 2019
By K. Owen LaFave, Pinellas County Market President
If you’re the typical person, you probably don’t enjoy conflict. Most people don’t go looking for a good fight—although, unfortunately, all of us have encountered at least one person that does. Many individuals, however, look to completely avoid conflict if and when it’s possible. Some leaders hope that by maintaining the appearance that everything is fine, or by simply hoping a situation will resolve itself, that they can avoid conflict without consequence. Unfortunately, conflict avoidance often allows small issues to grow into large problems. Left ignored, these problems can further evolve into superficial work environments where employees do not feel empowered to freely speak resulting in lost engagement, lost productivity and reduced effectiveness—or worse, it can spiral further into a dysfunctional or toxic work environment.
Keep issues small by proactively dealing with them at the onset of concerning behavior. In the wild, the American buffalo runs head-on towards rainstorms rather than waiting out the storm or running away. Conversely, cows huddle together and are forced to endure longer exposure. The buffalo’s approach of running into the storm results in reducing the amount of the buffalo’s exposure to the storm. Given the option, be the buffalo! As a leader, it’s our responsibility—and it is a responsibility—to address conflict head-on. Leaders who actively engage in coaching and learning about his/her team will find themselves dealing with much less conflict.
Conflict comes from the Latin word for “striking,” but it doesn’t have to be a violent act. Conflict, more commonly, can simply arise from opposing ideas. It’s important to discern that differences of opinion are not necessarily conflict if discussed in a professional and respectful manner. Diversity of thought is important and should be encouraged whenever possible. Conflict can be healthy and incredibly productive if managed appropriately.
Good outcomes can come as a result:
- Resolving underlying issues and problems.
- Arriving at solutions.
- Forming stronger bonds.
- Understanding each other better.
- Opening us up to new ideas.
- Giving us an opportunity to be better communicators.
- Enhancing emotional regulation.
All of us have different ways of managing conflict and dealing with stress, so I find it’s best to develop a collectively agreed upon process of addressing it to help eliminate the uncertainty and discomfort it can bring. It’s important to create a safe place where communication is transparent and people feel they can communicate freely without retribution.
Here are a few helpful tactics:
- Start with empathy by listening to the other person’s point of view.
- Try to keep an open mind.
- Always be respectful and professional.
- Be honest. No going behind each other’s back to gossip or garner the favor of others in the office.
- Ask questions. Many times the apparent conflict is a result of some other underlying and sometimes unrelated tension.
- Understand the facts, not someone’s opinion of the facts.
- Focus on specific behaviors and not personalities. Be careful not label. Everyone has value.
- Respond with “I” and not “you.”
- Avoid exaggerations such as “always” and “never.”
- Self-reflect and take responsibility when you’re at fault. Then commit to change if it’s needed.
The ultimate goal is to have a healthy resolution, not for there to be a “winner.” Find common ground and then learn from it.