“Change means movement. Movement means friction. Only in the frictionless vacuum of a nonexistent abstract world can movement or change occur without that abrasive friction of conflict.”
– Saul Alinsky
I can’t even begin to explain how difficult conflict is. I am naturally conflict averse, so this topic is one of my biggest struggles. This requires so much energy from me, and it takes a lot to motivate me into making this weakness into a strength. Believe me when I say that the following list is just as much for me as it is for you all.
I wrote in an earlier blog (Leaders Learn) about how we as leaders need to hire to cover our weaknesses. This statement is still true, but it is not true all of the time. Conflict resolution is not one weakness that we can just hire someone else to take care of for us. Imagine how much respect we would lose as leaders if we hired someone else to resolve our own personal conflicts.
This week’s quote is very intentional to my purpose for writing this post. Conflict isn’t going anywhere. Forgive me for generalizing, but we are all a bunch of flawed, mostly selfish people, who, when left to our own devices, will seek our own good above others. Because of this fact (sorry, conjecture/assumption), conflict is going to be a part of our society. Therefore, it is critical that a leader overcome any fear they may have about resolving conflicts, so I have included some really practical ways that will help you on your way:
- Address the problem head on: This is massively uncomfortable, but I have once heard it said that “conflict is often solved too late, but never too early.” Head off conflict as soon as you possibly can, and this will alleviate many future problems. Don’t let conflicts go underground.
- Have a mediator: I once had to enlist the help of a mediator to resolve issues I had with another friend, and this was incredibly helpful. You want to make sure that the mediator is unbiased (or at least a loyal friend to both) and objective. In corporate settings, HR departments can typically handle mediation.
- Think about what the other person wants: As I write this post, I am reading through How to Win Friends and Influence People, and, while I don’t agree with everything he says, he makes some valid points, and all these points refer back to the other person – to think outside of yourself and truly, sincerely love another person.
- Learn all you can about conflict resolution: The best way to handle conflict is to be prepared for it, and the best way to prepare for conflict is to study its resolution. I did this last summer with two books that I blitzed through because they were so good. Crucial Conversations by Joseph Grenny and Reconcile by John Paul Lederach. Hands down, these are the best books available right now for conflict resolution, and I highly recommend the both of them.
I encourage you to study these resources and recognize how you handle conflict, as well, so you can become less uncomfortable with conflict and tackle issues head on.