The Laws Of Conflict
"Peace is not absence of conflict, it is the ability to handle conflict by peaceful means." Ronald Reagan
"Hatred stirs up conflict, but love covers all offenses." Proverbs 10:12
For anyone in leadership, conflict is inevitable. It will happen. And in some seasons it will feel like conflict management is the only thing you do. It could be a struggle over direction, a dispute between staff, or a disagreement with peers, customers, or suppliers. Since conflict is unavoidable, those who anticipate, lead, and successfully manage these moments have a distinct leadership advantage. The next time you encounter conflict, consider these five laws.
Five laws of managing conflict:
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Law One: Manage Your Anxiety
Conflict is not always bad, but we can become quickly bothered by it. This is part of the reason for increasing levels of leadership stress. We need to keep in mind conflict is normal. Often it invites clarity where there is confusion and resolves a silent tension that needs to be made known. Yet many leaders conflict-averse because they think conflict is a reflection on them and their leadership deficiencies. But it's not the conflict that's the issue, but rather how they lead through the conflict is more the issue. If as a leader you can determine the root issues for the conflict without getting hooked by emotional insecurities you will always be able to lead more successfully through these encounters. Don't let yourself get baited and hooked. It's hard to help others who are anxious when you are too.
Law Two: Listen And Clarify
When emotions get elevated, people tend to stop listening to each other because their ability to listen is being hijacked by their emotional need to be heard. You can de-escalate a conflict by sitting down and listening – with precision I might add – and clarifying what is being said. Most of the time in a conflict people want to be both heard and understood. In the process of listening, you are helping them to gain a voice and a hearing they feel like they don't have, and in the process, you get a better understanding of what's happening in your organization. And in your listening give them time to ramp down emotionally.
Law Three: Identify Desired Outcomes
As we listen, we should be on a quest for identifying the outcomes desired. Sometimes, those who conflict with each other don't realize that they may have similar or even common goals but often just arguing over the best way to get there. If you know the result they both want then you can help them figure out how they can get there - and together. But remember it's not only about the outcomes they want, but it's also about the lessons learned through conflict and the relational wins post-conflict.
Law Four: State Next Steps (if necessary)
Is your next step another meeting with additional people? Is it a change in process or procedure? Is it seeking a new way of doing things? Whatever it is, identify it and ensure that those responsible are clear on what they need to do and when they need to do it. Set accountability in place to ensure that promises and decisions are kept to avoid another eruption. These steps are proof to all parties that you have listened and want to reconcile future issues that will help others manage conflicts better themselves.
Law Five: Include Outside Council (when needed)
Sometimes you have parties who are unwilling to work toward a solution, or the solution involves parties or processes that you don't have the authority to amend or modify. Thus, you need to ask someone to help resolve the matter. Sometimes a human resource department needs to be consulted or authorities with the power to make the necessary changes you cannot. Don't be afraid to ask others when this happens; it's better than hiding the issue or attempting to handle it on your own.
Remember that emotions and insecurities can prevent people from working through issues that are usually simple to solve. If you as a leader can help lower the emotions of the parties and help them look objectively at the items from the perspective of the desired outcome, solutions are often easy to find. Conflict is a healthy test to embrace it as such.
Vince Miller is a speaker, author, and mentor to men. He is an authentic and transparent leader who loves to communicate to audiences on the topics of mentorship, fathering, leadership and manhood. He has authored 13 books and small group curriculum for men and is the primary content creator of all Resolute materials. Contact Vince Miller here. His newest book is Thirty Virtues That Build A Man.