Conflict Resolution Tips Learned as a Middle Child (AKA Peacemaker!)
As a middle child, I am the ultimate peacemaker! I like everything to go smoothly and would prefer little or no conflict. It took me a while to understand that it is NOT possible, and in a work environment, conflict is necessary, will happen, and it’s your job to create an environment that makes it healthy. When I look back on some of my least proud moments as a leader, they are typically centered around not confronting a real issue head on. I can’t think, though, of a time when I regretted confronting an issue.
With that said, here’s my advice to CEO's and Senior Leaders on conflict:
1. Get comfortable with it! Conflict can be a good thing and shouldn’t be avoided. If you create an environment where conflict resolution doesn’t happen, you will drive it underground. People will have “secret” conversations about what they think should happen and thus begins the slippery slope that leads to an erosion of trust and honesty.
2. Discuss it with your leadership team. How do they want to manage conflict? Involve them in the solution, decide on the “rules of engagement”, and hold each other accountable. Agreeing to be clear and truthful about the issues, taking responsibility for your own behavior, and willingness to compromise is a good start. From there, you and your leadership team have to “walk the talk” by setting a good example.
3. Use it to build and reinforce your culture and core values. I haven’t seen a set of core values that doesn’t include trust, respect, or integrity. If you don’t create the environment where it is safe to confront issues, you will never have trust, or respect, or integrity as part of your culture.
4. Build your team around it. You can use conflict resolution to promote deeper understanding between your team members and this will help you learn what truly motivates and demotivates them. Trust and respect grow exponentially when your team experiences a genuine sense of honesty.
5. Don’t wait! Confront issues in “real time”. The longer you wait, the more you risk escalation, people digging into their position, and the harder it becomes to resolve.
6. Use your listening and coaching skills! You don’t have to solve every problem. Listen to understand and then support your team. Coach to help your team develop the skills to manage conflict on their own.
7. Just do it! It’s the only way. There is no one way or magic formula. Be open and honest about your intent. Don’t give up if you make mistakes. Your vulnerability will go a long way in setting the tone for others.
Trust me, you will be pleasantly surprised by the transformation you see and feel once you make confronting and addressing issues a part of your culture. Make no mistake, though, your team will be watching you and you must lead by showing them how do it and making it safe.
When someone came to me with an issue that they hadn’t discussed with the person (or people) involved, I would always ask them, “If someone had this issue with you, would you rather them approach you to resolve it, or talk to someone else about it?” In my 25+ years of asking this question, I never had anyone say that they wouldn’t want to be approached directly. Hmmm. I think that pretty much speaks for itself!