Of all the leadership skills to master, ever wonder which one is the most important? You guessed it – conflict management. Think about it. Getting comfortable and adept at managing conflict can accelerate your trajectory as an individual leader, increase productivity in teams, and ultimately lead to sustainability in organizations, and even communities. Conversely, unresolved conflict can result in decreased productivity, repressed innovation, and organizational silos.
Leaders across all sectors – corporate, social, and government – must spend their time addressing conflict because organizations are constantly undergoing change. The corporate sector deals with shifting profits or losses, fickle markets, or mergers and acquisitions. The social sector must manage changes in funding, turnover or realignment of staff and volunteers, and new board members with their own agendas or policy ideas. The government sector, has to deal with new policies, new administrations, and shifting political environments. These significant issues can produce a breeding ground for stress and can cause day-to-day workplace conflicts. Leaders who don’t address conflict head on will undoubtedly watch their top talent walk out the door in search of more professional, effective work environments. But leaders who embrace conflict and know how to deal with it can expect improved employee engagement and retention.
The way we handle conflict is the key to either making the situation worse or better. Conflict doesn’t always have to be a bad thing. Sure, it can be awkward or uncomfortable. Tensions can sometimes rise among co-workers, but positive tension can create new ideas, opportunities, and even innovation. Whether you are a barista, a business owner, a nonprofit executive director or a CEO, knowing how to lean into conflict can improve your relationships, create opportunities, and increase your productivity.
Here are 5 ways to tackle workplace conflict:
Stay Calm and Act Fast: When conflict arises it’s important to stay calm and not let your emotions get the best of you. Take a deep breath, do some breathing exercises, and if you have time, meditate before having that important conversation. The fastest way to have a conflict resolution meeting go south is raising your voice, rolling your eyes, folding your arms, or the worst – clamming up. Be aware of your body language. At the same time, you should act fast. Deal with conflict in a timely manner. Whether you’re the manager of a team dealing with conflict or you’re involved in a situation yourself, the faster you deal with the situation the better chance you have of avoiding miscommunication, triangulation, or the confusion that can lead to hurt feelings and ultimately bad morale.
Listen: Engage in active listening. Active listening is just that – active listening. Give the other person your full attention, concentrate on what they are saying, remember what they say and respond when appropriate. Don’t interrupt. Do not assume you understand all the facts. Do not jump up and down waiting for them to finish so you can interject your points. Expect the same from them when it’s your turn to give your perspective.
Communicate: Describe the conflict from your perspective as clearly, specifically, and impartially as you can. It may also help to outline your points and identify areas of agreement and disagreement.
Identify solutions: Make it a win-win. Work with your colleague or colleagues to create potential solutions that will resolve the conflict in a mutually beneficial way for both parties. After you have identified a solution or solutions, establish an action plan. This plan will serve as a roadmap you and your colleague can both follow to execute the solution.
Say thank you: Gratitude goes a long way. Say thank you to your colleague for contributing their time and energy to the problem-solving session. Finally, make sure you agree to follow up on the progress of the action plan.
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