On Leading through Conflict

One of the main responsibilities of Team Leadership is Conflict Resolution. This is both Intra-team conflict – Conflict between Team members and Inter-team conflict – conflict between your team and other teams within or outside the organization.

In this Volatile, Uncertain, Complex and Ambiguous (VUCA) world, conflict is almost inevitable. However, as pointed in my article – Conflict in High Performing Teams conflict is not always a bad thing, in fact, conflict can be used to stimulate intellectual growth and trust among team members.

“An eye for an eye will only make the whole world blind.” ― Mahatma Gandhi

As a Team leader, what are some of the tips or nuggets can you use to manage and resolve conflict within the team? Here are Two:

  • Seek First to Understand, then to be Understood

In his book 7 Habits of Highly effective People, Author Stephen Covey points out that most people do not listen with the intent to understand; but rather they listen with the intent to reply. Yet in order to effectively resolve conflict, the ability to understand or at least to intentionally seek to understand the point of view that is in contradiction with our own is one of the most important skill to develop. There is a reason we have two ears, and one mouth. Many times I have caught myself preparing my response when the other party is trying to put their point across while at the same time assessing their point of view from my own biases.

“The noblest pleasure is the joy of understanding.” – Leonardo da Vinci.

If you want to have or be great at handling conflict with your teammates, first, purpose to intentionally understand their point of view, ask for clarification on what is not clear, probe and ensure you truly understand their side of the story and secondly, be conscious and fully aware of your own biases then intentionally put them in check. If there is something that leaders must constantly do, is to constantly question our own assumptions and biases.

  • Don’t Just Communicate, Connect

The ability to effectively Communicate is one of the most important skill a leader must poses. To get people to work together or as a team – which I define as a group of people who TRUST each other, three things are important, Shared Vision, Shared Goals and Shared Purpose, all these must be communicated to the team. In his book “Everyone Communicates, few connect” Author John C Maxwell points out that Connecting not only increases your influence in every situation, but it also ensures that you as a leader are able to build consensus.

“If you would win a man to your cause, first convince him that you are his sincere friend.” —Abraham Lincoln

When conflicting ideas come up, what you say and how you say it are both just as important as what your body language communicates during that time. As leaders, your teams like children in a family, they not only listen but they also watch how you treat those you do not agree with as much as mimic how you address conflict or disagreement. During these times,, ensure you are using non-threatening language that serves to reinforce your understanding of the other person’s view as well as communicating clearly your points of agreement if any and your point(s) of departure from that view.

  • Keep a Positive Attitude, Think WIN-WIN

Few things determine the outcome of a conflict like the attitude of those involved in the conflict. William James captures this very well:

“Whenever you’re in conflict with someone, there is one factor that can make the difference between damaging your relationship and deepening it. That factor is attitude.”

So simply put, have a POSITIVE attitude, always believe that after the conflict, both or all parties involved will come out better. This is such a simple yet difficult aspect to grasp during a conflict. It is so hard to program our minds that something with a negative connotation like conflict can actually result in a positive outcome and that we need to keep a positive attitude and mindset throughout or during the engagement.

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