Many leaders find it uncomfortable to engage with conflict. Some want to please people rather than disappoint or upset them. Others are not comfortable in situations that feel stressful or tense.
A leader who is personally comfortable may not understand why others are uncomfortable or why they would choose to avoid or ignore conflict.
How a leader addresses and engages with conflict and difficult issues sets a tone for how employees and colleagues will respond. This blog post addresses the importance of surfacing conflict and differing views, particularly in times of change. The more complex the change, the more essential this becomes. People’s willingness to engage with conflict reflects their prior experience with the risks of speaking up.
Leaders need to anticipate that conflicting viewpoints will arise
People in organizations have as many views as they have vantage points on the work, given their expertise, roles, responsibilities, accountabilities, and experiences. Differences are natural and inevitable. This multiplicity of perspectives and expertise can strengthen the outcomes if they are discussed and thought about effectively.
The role of the leader in discussing conflicting views
In uncomfortable situations people want to engage with leaders who are not judgmental, critical, or blaming. They want leaders who can hear difficult things without reacting emotionally and who can actively engage in listening to understand the issues and think about them constructively with others.
Differing perspectives and conflict may not surface easily. It is important for leaders to actively work with colleagues and employees to find and address conflict. The degree of ease that a leader feels about dealing with differences and conflicts has a strong impact on how others will respond to the leader.
What is your level of ease in difficult discussions and with conflict?
How does this come across to others? What is the impact on them, on discussions, and on problem-solving? Do the discussions deepen and are they active and candid, or do they shut down with little engagement and openness? Do people leave a difficult discussion feeling good and knowing how to go forward, or are they guarded and without resolution?
Encourage expression of conflicting views. Here are some guidelines to surface and manage conflict in discussions:
Acknowledge emotions and make them part of the discussion.
Emotions are normal responses in times of change, conflict, and difficulties, and they affect people’s thinking and actions. Be aware of these emotions and consider how they impact participants and the issues or work. Ask people how they feel about an issue, how the people who work for them feel about the issue, and what their challenges are and why.
Factors in the emotional response to conflict:
Take a few minutes of quiet thinking:
A related article addresses the importance of the leader in creating a safe environment where people can speak openly and be transparent. Ignoring this need impedes the success of the work, affects employees, and can result in unhealthy, even toxic work environments.
© 2015 Evi Kahle. All rights reserved.
Evi Kahle, Executive Organizational and Leadership Expert, supports executive leaders to effectively direct organizational change, manage across boundaries, think and plan more strategically and engage people in change more effectively. Her clients include healthcare organizations, middle market and Fortune 500 companies. You are welcome to reprint this post as long as you include the above copyright and bio in full. Please contact Evi Kahle if you have any questions.