Nobody can avoid conflict entirely, and if they could, it wouldn’t necessarily be a good thing.
Outstanding conflict resolution solves problems and raises people’s potential.
Without conflict, there would be no diversity of viewpoint, and no reason for us to rethink things or evaluate our own opinions and ways of doing things. It’s similar to the physical concept of friction. Sure, friction can cause machinery parts to wear out, and it takes more physical energy to overcome mechanical friction. But without it, we couldn’t use an eraser to erase our mistakes, we couldn’t climb mountains, and the tires on our vehicles wouldn’t engage against the road, getting us to where we need to go.
Conflict resolution is one of the most important leadership skills, because it can resolve problems before healthy levels of friction can become damaging. And it can help bring people around to new ways of thinking and tackling problems. It is a skill that requires training and practice for most people.
Knowing When and How to Address Conflict
The intelligent leader can see when two parties are capable of working out a conflict on their own, and when intervention is required. They can also discern when conflict resolution can be accomplished by simple and straightforward conversation and when a formal grievance process must be initiated.
Conflict resolution skills are valuable in many professional positions, including customer-facing and supervisory positions. Knowing when conflict resolution is needed and how to facilitate it are skills everyone in a position of leadership should learn.
Most Important Leadership Skills for Conflict Resolution
Several key skills are put into service in the resolution of conflicts:
- Communication – because some conflict is a simple matter of miscommunication, and all conflict benefits from honest communication about what the issue is, and what it isn’t
- Emotional intelligence – because conflict is often a case of high emotion and low trust, and emotional intelligence can recognize and help work through this
- Empathy – being able to see conflict from another’s point of view to avoid bringing one’s own preconceptions to the table
- Problem-solving – the ability to create workable solutions through talking, brainstorming, agreeing on a solution, and implementing it
- Perspective – knowing how important the conflict is in the overall scheme of things, neither minimizing its importance nor blowing it out of proportion
If any of these skills are lacking, conflict resolution will suffer.
Long-Term Steps for Prevention and Management of Conflict
You can’t make conflict go away by ignoring it.
One thing all leaders must commit to is refusing to ignore brewing conflict. It’s nice to think that conflict will go away if it’s ignored, but we all know that doesn’t happen. Nobody really likes confrontation, and everyone wants a harmonious workplace, but ignoring tension won’t magically produce a peaceful environment.
Knowing when to step into a conflict requires wisdom and practicality, and the strong leader knows how to read a room when to let things settle down before addressing the conflict, and when to step in immediately. It’s a skill that requires knowledge, training, and practice to master.
Finally, one of the best long-term steps to managing conflict is empowering people to reach their potential, whatever their role. Rarely is it the leader who directly resolves a conflict. Rather, the people in conflict must learn that they have a role to play, and they must be willing to do their part to solve the problem.
How Leadership Coaching Can Help
Leadership coaching is a process for engaging with leaders to help them realize their strengths and weaknesses and develop an actionable plan for strengthening the former while addressing the latter. Conflict resolution isn’t something that comes naturally to most people, and even if they know what the steps are, they may not know when and how to take them.
Leadership coaches are there to help leaders build their critical skills, including the skills that are used for conflict resolution, like communication, empathy, and problem-solving. Through leadership coaching, leaders practice their skills and gain feedback, so their skills not only improve but are ready to be called upon in the moment.
Whether you want to improve your conflict resolution skills in particular or your overall leadership skills, I encourage you to learn more about my leadership coaching services. As an alternative, you may wish to check out my books, particularly Intelligent Leadership: What You Need to Know to Unlock Your Full Potential.