How Conflict Management Fails
One of the most common misunderstandings of corporate culture comes from equating management and leadership as the same. These are not interchangeable, and when treating them as such, leaders will create a lot of dysfunction. Thus conflict management falls short of conflict leadership. Conflict management creates a culture that constantly runs from one fire to the next, dances on eggshells, and tries to appease people before new situations arise. Don't settle for conflict management; learn to lead conflict. First, you will need to let go of the following myths.
Myth #1: Outcomes Are Your Responsibility
One of the most significant problems with conflict management comes from taking responsibility for the outcomes of the situation. Reactionary leaders think they can manage all parties involved, steering conversations toward the desired destination. Proactive leaders understand what lies inside their locus of control. They know that leaders cannot control the reactions of others. By taking responsibility for their actions, they are less likely to employ manipulative tactics, focus on the information in front of them, and prevent their own emotions from blinding them from adequately addressing problems.
When leaders seek to control outcomes, they lose sight of the problem and begin to exert control in unhealthy ways. By focusing on your emotions and response, you balance your level of control and allow the other person to feel safe engaging in difficult conversations with you. Focus on what you can control and let go of the rest.
Myth #2: Handle Conflict Immediately
Managing conflict as quickly as possible seems like a good idea, right? But have you ever been in a situation that you regretted dealing with immediately? Did your emotions get the best of you? At InitiativeOne, we like to illustrate this process using three gears:
1st Gear: The Event
2nd Gear: The Evaluation
3rd Gear: The Response
Often, leaders feel pressure to skip 2nd gear by reacting to conflict rather than responding after evaluating the necessary information. Distinguishing between real-time and right now can be difficult, but it is essential to understand the difference. Dealing with situations in real-time relies on two critical conditions, gathering your emotions by practicing self-restraint and seeking information to provide more context.
Lead your emotions, don't let them manage your reaction. Your emotions are not inherently wrong, but they may take you towards statements that inspire regret quickly when tensions flair up. Leading your emotions requires both effort and practice. Take some time to wrestle back control of the steering wheel and cool off before entering the conflict.
Similarly, it is vital to gather necessary information when involved in a conflict. There is never only one side to the story. However, it's important to remember to have the difficult conversation here. Seeking input from others and talking about differences in opinion will create unnecessary drama when they are not dealt with in real-time. Gather your emotions, gather the information, then respond.
You must respond.
Myth #3: Healthy Cultures Have Fewer Conflicts
How do you measure the health of your culture? For most leaders, conflict carries a negative connotation; less conflict is good and more conflict is terrible. Such a view of conflict robs cultures of opportunities for constructive conflict to increase creativity, collaboration, and deeper trust. Rather than viewing conflict as an ill to avoid, measure cultural health by the effectiveness of your conflict leadership.
Our propensity to avoid conflict comes from perfectionistic tendencies. Conflict is not an indictment of our abilities. Conflict is natural. People will disagree. In fact, at times, they should! Rather than skipping conflict to get rid of short-term anxiety, lead conflict so that your team recognizes that you value them. Healthy cultures put issues on the table and address them. This communication is unnatural, but it recognizes the importance of dissenting opinions. It fosters a culture that values, hears, and includes everyone. Leading conflict is the only way these cultures will thrive.