Managing conflict of any kind can be a frustrating task for most of us. For leaders, resolving some sort of conflict is usually the norm rather than the exception. From competing resources and deadlines, to new project teams, mergers, and managing through organizational change, leaders are continually required to flex their interpersonal conflict management skills.
In addition, more and more of the work we do today involves multiple teams to reach organizational goals. The increased need for clear communication and role clarity between teams will help to ease potential conflict, and if navigated well, can provide team members with the opportunity to be innovative, take risks, and increase productivity.
As a leader, you may find the strategies below can help you to leverage your emotional intelligence skills in times of conflict.
Manage Yourself First
1. Listen to yourself with purpose. Use Emotional Self-Awareness skills to recognize your reactions, thoughts, and feelings regarding the conflict at hand. What are your thoughts about the conflict; the way it has been handled thus far and what can be done to get through it? What frustrates you about it? What is good about it? Remember, even though it may feel personal at times, the conflict is often not about you. Pay attention to how you feel and bring the focus back to the issue.
2. Timely expressions of yourself. As a leader, your emotional expressions are always in the limelight, and while some situations call for instantly expressing yourself, most require a more deliberate and controlled expression. Your genuine expression and authenticity will be appreciated by others especially when it is timely and constructive. Along with self awareness from Strategy #1, utilize your Emotional Expression and Impulse Control skills to make the conscious decision to express yourself in a constructive manner, thinking through the outcome you expect from your expression before you express it.
Manage Others Second
3. Empathy in conflict management. Without empathy, conflict would bring nothing but harm to your team and your effectiveness. Use your Empathy skills as a tool to bring down the temperature of the situation. Listen to the other side attentively and genuinely. Even if you disagree completely with the other side, find ways to express your genuine understanding (e.g., how frustrating the situation must be for them; the amount of effort being dedicated; how much is at stake for them). Validation in this way can be the single most powerful tool to get others to pull back their defenses. If the conflict is within your team, take the time to truly listen to each individual. The time spent will be a rewarding investment.
4. Conflict resolution management. Note that the title of this article is conflict management, not conflict resolution. Yes, there will be situations that call for immediate action and you will need to make use of the authority behind the position you hold at your organization. For others, try simply managing the conflict as opposed to resolving it. Leaders usually have the tendency to jump right into problem solving mode, especially when problem solving skills are second-nature, or it seems easier to solve it yourself than allow others to do so. Make the conscious decision to manage the conflict as a leader and use it as an opportunity to develop your team. Use your Interpersonal, Stress Tolerance, and Optimism skills to guide and develop your team to find innovative solutions to the conflict they experience. Provide them with the latitude to generate solutions and then review the best course of action with them. Remember, conflict can be a good thing! Learn to manage its destructive potential and harness its constructive energy.
QUESTION: What impact have you noticed when you skillfully manage conversations versus jump in and try to quickly resolve conflict?