How to Respond to Conflict as a Leader

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Whether you’re leading the IT department, or you’re the head of marketing, or you’re VP of sales, I guarantee you are frequently faced with conflict. It’s everywhere! You likely deal with breakdowns in communication, conflicting views, power struggles, and personality differences. If handled poorly or not even addressed, these issues can get out of control and become very costly. You’ll see the negative effects in the form of distrust, decreased productivity, lowered morale, and damaged relationships.

If, on the other hand, you confront these issues up front and in a healthy manner, your team can benefit from conflict. Healthy conflict can spark new ideas, increase problem-solving skills, and create more understanding when there are opposing opinions. Healthy conflict can quickly build resilience in your team, and that’s not an easily attainable trait. Resilience is a highly valued individual and team trait.

As a leader, it naturally falls on your shoulders to set the tone for how conflict is to be handled. Are you someone who fears conflict and avoids it whenever possible? I really hope you don’t say that’s your MO. If that happens to be your natural preference, I hope you have the wherewithal to get uncomfortable and address conflict in a healthy way. Your priority should be the well-being and success of your team, which means you will need to face conflict head on at some point (at many points).

Capobianco, Davis, and Kraus recognized that “there are both constructive and destructive responses to conflict, as well as active and passive responses that we need to recognize”. When team conflict arises, the goal is to respond constructively. Active and constructive responses to conflict show up when you take perspective, create solutions, express emotions, and reach out. Passive and constructive responses to conflict appear as reflective thinking, delay responding, and adapting.

On the other hand, there are destructive responses. Active and destructive responses to conflict include displaying anger, winning at all costs, demeaning others, and retaliating. Passive and destructive responses to conflict include avoiding, yielding, hiding emotions, and self-criticizing. You can probably imagine how some of these destructive responses could grow into detrimental situations.

In addition to the responses just mentioned, it’s also worth mentioning that you don’t want to be overly aggressive or overly passive as a leader; you want to find the sweet spot where conflict becomes just another tool to strengthen your team. Rather than taking an aggressive stance with conflict, focus on finding an assertive stance. Aggressive conflict management is a dominating style that doesn’t allow others to share their opinions, whereas assertive conflict management is a balanced style using active listening, showing respect for others involved.

As a leader and team member, identify what your hot buttons are so you can react in a healthier and more effective way. Hot buttons are “those situations and individuals that are annoying, frustrating, or upsetting”. You just had a few situations or individuals pop into your head I’m sure – keep them to yourself. Hot buttons, when pushed, will quickly start, or escalate conflict. If you can identify what those might be for yourself, you will be more prepared to react with more intention.

Conflict can be complex, but it doesn’t have to be the worst thing if you handle it the right way! If you want some guidance building the resilience within your team, chat with a CoreCounts Consultant about our options for team training.

We also have a training on July 27th that hits this topic on the head! Check it out → Navigating Conflict & Uncomfortable Conversations at Work

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