Resolving Conflicts

Conflicts exist in organizations large and small.  We all know it.  We’ve all felt it.  The good news is that conflicts don’t have to be scary, they can be productive—allowing creativity and trust to be the outcomes.  Over and over again, leadership guru, Patrick Lencioni, stresses that healthy conflict leads to stronger organizations.  In “The Advantage”, Lencioni clarifies what healthy conflict looks like:

“…the kind of conflict I’m referring to here is not the nasty kind that centers around people or personalities.  Rather, it is what I call productive ideological conflict, the willingness to disagree, even passionately when necessary, around important issues and decisions that must be made.  But that can only happen when there’s trust” (p. 38). 

So, if trust is the basis for healthy conflict, how can leaders pursue positive outcomes when conflict is on the table?

4 Keys to Dealing with Conflict

1. Conflict is sometimes defined as the communication of a need which is being unmet.  In other words, establishing the trust which is necessary for open communication is crucial.

2. Separate the people from the problem.  People are never the problem.  The problem is the problem, and the sooner one gets to naming the problem, the more swiftly a solution may be mounted.

3. Leaders resolve conflict by ensuring a fair process to all parties—allowing the needs to be communicated in a healthy environment. 

Sometimes you can negotiate a win/win, but sometimes you can’t.  That’s why ensuring a fair process matters so much.

4. Deal with it.  Don’t let conflicts fester.  The longer a conflict is allowed to linger around the organization, the more difficult it will be to solve.

When leaders are engaged in the process of resolving conflicts, vulnerability and trust can grow.      

Holly McIlwain, M.S. directs the Leadership Development Practice for Talerico Group.