How Great Leaders Handle Conflict
“Peace is not the absence of conflict, but the ability to cope with it.” – Dorothy Thomas.
We tend to dislike conflict. For most of us, conflict is a source of stress and discomfort. Still, it is very much part and parcel of our existence. According to M. Esther Harding, “conflict is the beginning of consciousness.”
There is no growth without conflict, yet, in the context of leadership training, few resources go into teaching executives how to develop their conflict resolution skills.
Good conflict resolution skills allow a leader to take advantage of the surprising benefits of conflict.
In and of itself, conflict is a net negative. As most difficulties, however, it bears opportunity in its womb.
Through conflict resolution, the intelligent leader can bring a number of surprising benefits to light.
- Conflict brings to the surface simmering, hidden problems that can undermine the functioning of an organization. Conflict resolution eliminates these problems.
- Effective conflict resolution teaches people how to achieve their goals without undermining others. It gives them the ability to see and understand issues from other perspectives.
- Conflict resolution brings the opposing sides together. Thus, it increases the cohesiveness of teams and organizations.
- Through conflict resolution, people develop their emotional intelligence, and with it, their self-awareness and self-knowledge.
How Leaders Handle Conflict
The Thomas-Kilmann Conflict Mode Instrument defines five conflict-handling behaviors, based on assertiveness and openness to collaboration.
- Solving conflicts through competition is an effective approach in some cases. It is a strength-based way of solving problems, and as such, it can breed resentment.
- Accommodation is the opposite of competition. In situations where preserving harmony is paramount, it too may make sense.
- Avoiding conflict is a temporary solution. It postpones the “showdown”, allowing the parties involved to step back and reassess their positions with a cool head.
- Compromising sides give up some of their demands to favor conflict resolution. This approach creates no winners and losers. A compromising leader will find, however, that his/her team may try to game the predictability of this conflict management method.
- Unlike compromising, collaborating creates winners only. It is a win-win approach. Through collaboration, all sides in a conflict gain an acceptable solution. It is the most resource-intensive conflict management method in terms of energy, bandwidth, communication, and time.
Collaboration is a win-win approach.
Improving Conflict Resolution Skills
- It always makes sense to keep discussions on a courteous level. One should respect his/her interlocutor, regardless of the nature of the conflict in which they are engaged.
- Separating the person from the problem allows the leader to focus on solving the problem without compromising the relationship.
- Separating emotion from reasoning gives the parties in conflict a more accurate view of the situation. To achieve this, the parties should be aware of the facts, they should listen to each other’s point of view, and they should cooperate on finding a solution.
- Making sure that they agree on the facts of the situation is also an important step toward conflict resolution.
- Eliminating emotion from the conflict, agreeing on the facts, and separating the person from the problem can turn toxic, affective conflicts, into easier-to-handle and more reasonable cognitive conflicts.
One of the important leadership skills, conflict-resolution allows the leader to achieve a healthy leader-team dynamic. Leadership training should, therefore, focus on such leadership skills in realistic terms, making it clear to those coached that they have to make a conscious effort toward improving their conflict resolution skills.
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