From the moment we wake up, we can be – and often are – in conflict with others. With our family members over how the day will go, with team members about the best next step on a project, with our manager over how to implement a new process, with colleagues about budget issues, with the person on line in front of you who is taking too long to order…the list goes on. Conflict is unavoidable and generally unenjoyable. And if mishandled it can negatively impact the results we’re trying to achieve and ruin our day…or our week.

But conflict is not a bad thing, even though it feels so bad. In fact, it’s necessary and important. It brings out ideas that might not get thought of and strengthens proposals before they’re proposed – but only when it’s handled in ways that heighten the positives and lessen the negatives. So how do we work through conflict in a way that works?

There are a few simple, but not so easy, steps to take that can help make conflict more effective and productive. They may seem tough, or nearly impossible, in the moment when our emotions are flaring and frustration and reaction seem to be the only choices, but these five steps are possible:

  • Remember what you really want – We can get so caught up in the fight that we forget what we’re fighting for. And sometimes we’re fighting against each other, without realizing we’re fighting for the same thing. It’s important to be clear, and to clearly share, what it is we really want and need. So that we remember and other people know.
  • Take a step back – Many of us are driven to react immediately, if not sooner, to conflict, when what we (or the other person) really need is to count to ten – or one hundred – and pause…so that we can respond and not just react. So that we can be Thoughtful and take a next action or share a next word that will help cool the conflict so that we can find a solution.
  • But not too far back – Those of us who aren’t driven to immediate reaction might be driving as far away as we possibly can. That doesn’t help either. While it’s important to not react in a fit of anger, it’s also important not to disengage entirely. Stay present, even if you step out of the room to cool down. Don’t ignore or avoid the conflict – deal with it or it will never go away.
  • Get in their shoes – One of the most effective ways to dissolve conflict is to see it from the other person’s perspective. To stand in their shoes. Why do they want what they want? What are they facing? What pressure are they under? What’s important to them? What’s their experience? When you can see and understand a situation from your “opponent’s” point of view, you can move away from taking things personally and be more willing to meet them in a place that may work for both of you.
  • Get on the same side of the problem – The most effective way to solve a problem is to get together to solve a problem. Instead of fighting over whether there is a problem, or what the problem is, or whose fault it all is, or who should give in first – when you can work with someone to solve the problem (rather than against them to win) you have more chance of figuring things out and coming up with the win-win solution that meets most needs.

Conflict is unavoidable and usually unenjoyable, but it can be handled well and it can yield great results.

What works best for you to work through conflict?
Please leave a comment to share.

If you enjoyed this post, you can read more like it in our book, The Power of Thoughtful Leadership: 101 Minutes To Being the Leader You Want To Be, available on Amazon.

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