How Do the Best Leaders Resolve Conflict?


Professional Development Series, Part 3

Lately, we’ve been talking leadership  – specifically, how you can adjust a few behaviors at a time to bring out the best in your people and your organization.

Check out Part 1 on Leading Teams and Part 2 on High Performance now.

Hopefully, putting your attention into developing strong teams and improved performance nips some conflict in the bud, but we all know disagreements and challenges are inevitable.

Getting involved in staff disputes, squabbles and disagreements isn’t for the faint of heart, and it’s an area where leaders can end up making the problem worse. It pays to have a strategy.

The Idea

Conflict resolution is the process of two more people reaching an agreement after a dispute, debate or disagreement. The general school of thought is that the process evolves successfully with these steps:

  • Identify the source of the conflict. This usually requires separate conversations that are driven by questions. It’s not a time to come to conclusions, but instead, to seek to understand each member’s recollection, feelings, and concerns.
  • Look beyond the incident. Look for what’s lying underneath the issue. Usually, it’s a feeling or concern such as being unheard, deceived, disrespected, etc. The incident is just a symptom of the dynamic.
  • Request solutions. As a manager, it’s always best to encourage your team members to find their own solutions first. If staff can do this themselves, as opposed to being “managed” through it, they will be much more likely to make it happen.
  • Find solutions everyone can support. This is where the word “resolution” comes from. It’s not a matter of “right” or “wrong,” it’s a matter of finding a solution all parties can live with.
  • Reach agreement. Then, collectively, it’s time for everyone to officially commit to the plan in place. Doing this together, openly, will hold everyone more accountable.

The Practice

So, what professional skills can help you facilitate the process? Start with:

  • Listen actively: Seek to understand, paraphrase back to make sure you’re interpreting comments correctly and avoid inserting your opinion. Create an environment that allows others to feel comfortable disclosing their feelings.
  • Consider timing: Overreacting too early or letting conflict fester are both recipes for escalating versus resolving disagreements.
  • Use conflict to deepen understanding. While conflict is uncomfortable, it also gives you a glimpse into how your staff members tick – What’s important to them, what triggers them, etc. If you pay attention, this information can be very valuable as you continue your role as coach.

Further Study

4 Ways Leaders Effectively Manage Employee Conflict, Forbes
Difficult Conversations, Douglas Stone, Bruce Patton, Sheila Heen
Getting to Yes, Roger Fisher and William Ury
Crucial Conversations, Kerry Patterson, Joseph Grenny, Ron McMillan, Al Switzler
Crucial Confrontations, Kerry Patterson, Joseph Grenny, Ron McMillan, Al Switzler

Next Up: How Do the Best Leaders…Build Influence?