Some people have a fight-or-flight reaction to conflict. Executive coaching can teach leaders to overcome this tendency and change their attitudes toward conflict. When you demonstrate curiosity and a willingness to truly listen, it is amazing how quickly conflict can deescalate into a conversation that may help you solve long-simmering problems.

“A soft word turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.”- Proverbs 15:1. 

For many of us, conflict is the end of reason. We choose to drop reason so we can square off to win the conflict. Yet reason has a central role in conflict resolution, and we should never abandon it, as it always triumphs in the end.

For those of us with poor conflict resolution skills, executive coaching may be the answer.

Conflict resolution is an essential leadership skill. 

Conflict is part and parcel of business and organizational leadership. Wherever several people work together, conflict is inevitable. Some leaders handle it better than others who tend to give in to their fight-or-flight instincts whenever they’re facing a dissenting opinion.

Nobody likes conflict, and we all value peace. Leaders should understand, however, that peace does not result from the absence of conflict but from the ability to deal with it.

Recognizing Poor Conflict Management Skills

How can an executive coaching professional tell that a leader has poor conflict resolution skills? Leaders who can’t handle conflict:

  • Tend to run away from it
  • Can be overly agreeable and accommodating
  • Often fail to stand up for themselves and their interests
  • Tend to keep disputes simmering and festering instead of addressing them
  • May get aggressively defensive, perceiving conflict as a personal attack
  • Allow conflict to blindside them
  • Jump into conflict with abandon, doing everything to win
  • Cannot tolerate the existence of conflict, so they try to curb it on less than ideal terms

By contrast, leaders with good conflict management skills:

  • Meet conflict head-on, calmly, looking for solutions instead of winning arguments
  • May view conflict as an opportunity to make headway in stubborn issues
  • Demonstrate good listening skills
  • Can settle disputes equitably

How Executive Coaching Can Help with Conflict Management

To some degree, leadership is the art of navigating human relationships and emotions, including conflicts. Conflict management is part and parcel of leadership the same way conflict is inevitable in human relationships.

An executive coach can help leaders reassess their conflict resolution skills and fine-tune them according to what they wish to accomplish. The mental state of coaching lends itself well to conflict management.

Understanding Instead of Countering

A leadership coaching professional always seeks to understand the client first and utmost. For a leader, it makes sense to adopt a similar attitude toward conflict. Leaders should seek to understand the opposing perspective instead of looking for ways to combat it.

Striking a Conciliatory Tone

Executive coaches aim to dig deep. Therefore, they don’t refuse conversation and analysis. Leaders should adopt a calm attitude toward antagonistic opinions, agreeing to analyze the arguments and motives of the party voicing them. Such a position defuses much of the animosity before it takes hold.

Maintaining Curiosity

Curiosity is the ideal attitude for learning. Those genuinely interested in getting to the bottom of something will ask relevant questions. As I’ve pointed out in my leadership development books, the art of coaching values the power of questioning.

Leaders can head off conflicts by paying enough attention to the complaints of the interlocutor.

Don’t run from conflict. Try to analyze and compromise instead. 

Asking the Right Questions

Executive coaches learn about their clients and guide them by asking questions. By adopting a similar approach to conflict management, leaders can handle their conflicts much better.

Instead of asking Why questions, try to dig deeper with Who, What, and How questions. Instead of “why did you do it?” ask, “What was your reasoning behind these actions?”

Learning to Listen

When you truly listen to what a person says, you put a dampener on aggression and defensive attitudes. What does it mean to really listen?

  • Establish a listening presence, making sure you give your interlocutor your full attention.
  • Listen for emotions, body language, and silence, in addition to the words.
  • Try to focus the scope of your listening on understanding and not on delivering a response.

Executive coaching can teach leaders to manage their emotions and change their attitudes toward conflict. Conflict doesn’t have to be personal. And far from being a nuisance, it can provide opportunities for growth and progress.

Check out my books to learn more about business coaching and leadership development.


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