Updated: Mar 26
Do you want to be a better leader? Then let’s start by talking about conflict. I know it’s probably not your favorite topic – mine either! However, we can’t talk about leadership effectiveness without talking about conflict. Why? Because handling conflict is a critical leadership task, and failure to manage conflict appropriately is a primary reason that leaders fail. So, if needed, take a deep breath and let’s dive right in.
To handle conflict like a pro, you have to talk like a pirate. Before you think I’ve gone off my rocker, read on. What comes to mind when you think of how a pirate talks? If you’re like me, you think of the sound –aarr- that precedes any sentence. Once you get the sound in your head, it’s hard to get rid of and that’s exactly why I want you to talk like a pirate while honing your conflict management skills.
AARR is the sound that will help you be a better leader as you remember the four elements of good conflict management:
Anticipate – Good leaders recognize that conflict is inevitable. Even in the best-run organizations, there are disagreements from time to time. As you look ahead in day-to-day operations and for the long term, think about likely bumps in the road. Some conflicts will be focused on individuals, others on ideas. Planning ahead enables you to prepare positive responses and have them ready to go before the need arises.
Avoid – If you expect conflict and can anticipate where and why it may occur, you can also develop strategies to avoid or minimize its disruption within your team. As the leader, you chart the course and steer the ship. When possible, pilot your team away from trouble spots that will derail your efforts and destroy morale. Of course, it isn’t always possible or even desirable to totally avoid conflict, but if you have a diversion strategy in place, you may be able to reduce the negative impact when it does occur.
Recognize – With conflict, as with everything else, your responsibility as the leader is to see the big picture, scan the environment and help your team understand what is happening at any given moment. When conflict is brewing, or has been buried under the surface, good leaders recognize the clues and take steps to ensure the problem is addressed.
Recognizing conflict includes acknowledging it openly and honestly so that it can be addressed. Hidden conflict simmers under the surface and can have devastating consequences when it erupts unexpectedly. As a leader, choosing the time and the manner in which conflict is named and handled increases your likelihood of achieving a positive outcome.
Resolve – Far too often, conflict is smoothed over, rather than resolved. As a leader, you need to look beneath the surface to its underlying causes and address those issues. Without deeper attention and actual resolution, conflict recycles again and again.
Ensure your team members are truly engaged and invested in the solution so that they will be committed to moving forward. You will know a conflict is resolved when it is no longer being rehashed and revisited – and when solutions are honoring, collaborative and respectful to involved individuals and the organization.
Dr. Sherene McHenry, Leadership Effectiveness expert, is a widely acclaimed speaker, author and coach that demystifies how to lead, motivate and resolve conflict for optimal results. Known for being wise, witty and highly practical, Sherene provides instantly implementable tips and strategies for becoming a better leader, enhancing leadership effectiveness and employee engagement.