Your favorite part of team leadership is resolving conflict, right? While I have worked with many managers and leaders who enjoy their role, I have not talked with very many who enjoy dealing with conflict. I have yet to find one who has never experienced conflict in his or her work group. Disagreement, misunderstanding, blaming, and competition are a few of the reasons we, as leaders, deal with conflict between people.
A conflict occurs when one perceives that a person or group will take action that threatens needs, interests, values, or well-being. Conflict is experienced when one reacts to the perception of threat, whether the perception is real or not.
What is your preferred approach to settling conflicts? You may avoid conflict. That is, you don’t do conflict. Perhaps you are the person that always loses. You may state your case, but in the end, you never prevail. Alternatively, you may do whatever it takes to win every conflict you decide to engage. There are those who take the middle ground of compromise and work with everyone to find a solution. In this scenario, you win some and lose some in a process of giving and taking.
While each of these approaches has their place depending on the circumstance, in terms of building a team, collaboration is the most beneficial. Collaboration focuses everyone on what is creating the conflict and how to fix the problem. It is better than compromise because there is a commitment to the best solution and not the one everyone can live with.
It is impossible to build a team with shared responsibility, ownership, and accountability without working through conflict. People have to work through differences to come together. It is the leader’s responsibility to make sure this is done well.
There are three reasons you should value conflict:
- Conflict is Normal – It is normal to disagree, misunderstand another person, compete for your idea, believe your experience is the best, avoid blame, and the list goes on. Is it unrealistic to think that people can attempt to work together in a productive manner and not bump into one another’s differences? A leader does himself a favor when he accepts the reality that conflict is normal and teaches his team the same truth.
- Conflict is Healthy – When conflict is resolved in a healthy productive process, it is healthy for both individuals and the group. Working collaboratively to agree on the best outcome in a conflict requires people to communicate well, be open, seek to understand, and desire to be understood. This training and experience connects people into a strong team.
- Conflict brings New Opportunities – Collaboration results in outcomes that can only be discovered when people interact. Ideas reveal themselves as the process of working through conflict to a solution elevates them to consciousness. Collective creativity and innovation reside in these interactive moments. As the team matures in its ability to disagree without experiencing threat, they have moved beyond the turbulence conflict creates.
When a leader learns an effective process for resolving conflict, he or she is equipped to benefit from the conflict that occurs in a team. This transforms what most managers dread into a powerful leadership tool.