Using Conflict As a Tool for Growth: 3 Steps to Resolution

This blog is an excerpt from Kathleen’s upcoming book Living the Leadership Choice. Join the Leadership Connection community to receive updates and exclusive content.

“Whenever you’re in conflict with someone, there is one factor that can make the difference between damaging the relationship and deepening it. That factor is attitude.” – William James

One of the greatest assets in a conflict is the ability to recognize that if people are fired-up enough to be angry there must be something they care a great deal about preserving and/or fear losing. As a leader, this is an opportunity to not only move past the conflict, but also to strengthen the existing relationships.

How well do you handle conflict?

When people talk about conflict it generally insinuates not just a disagreement, but one that is protracted, messy, ugly, and uncomfortable – and who wants that in their life? Still, people have learned to live with various conflicts in their lives because they lack the tools to effectively address issues with people who feel strongly about a certain topic. If you learn nothing else about leadership, learning to effectively deal with conflict is the one tool that will serve you well time and again.

Are you ready to give it a try?

Think of an on-going conflict with someone in your life and the follow these three steps.

  1. For you:
    • Identify what you are feeling. This means separating the facts – i.e., the things that all parties can agree on – from your feelings.
    • Identify the true root issue for you. In almost every situation, it has to do with fear. You may want to frame your response this way: “My fear in this conflict is that if blank happens it will mean blank for me.”
    • Examine your root concern. Is what you are thinking, feeling, or fearing absolutely true? Have you perhaps allowed emotions and thoughts to make the consequences larger than they really are?
    • What is the desired outcome you would like to see? Be clear about what you would like to happen and how you want the conflict to be resolved.
  2. For the other person or party involved in the conflict:
  3. Meet with the other person involved
    • While meeting face-to-face can be uncomfortable, the power of this experience is what is needed to resolve it. In extending the invitation to sit down, be clear about your intention to resolve the issue at hand. When meeting, work through the conversation using the nonviolent communication method. In addition to making specific requests aimed at breaking the logjam, your empathy will be heightened by having engaged in the first two steps of this process. Just as a high-functioning team leader identifies the talents of others, you can use these same insights to help the other party identify his or her fears and address possible resolutions that he or she may not considered.

If you engaged in this process, you will be several steps down the road toward resolving whatever issue is between you and the person you identified. The other person has a choice as to how he or she is going to handle it, and if he or she wants to work toward a good-faith resolution. In the worst case, the other person will be completely unwilling or unable to engage at this level – and then you will know that you have done all you can to resolve the issue. Once you know this, you can make more informed choices about how you want to move forward. Regardless, you win by either resolving the conflict and strengthening the connection or knowing that the conflict cannot currently be resolved. Now you can confidently chose a new direction knowing that you have done your best in the situation.

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