Welcome Conflict with 3 Resilient Leadership Practices

I don’t like conflict. Sometimes it angers me, and at other times I come away feeling depressed. I am not always clear as to who owns the blame, or who is in the right or wrong within the conflict — but I have come to understand that conflict can be a good thing.

Close up of a couple arguing

Conflict can arise in any relationship, and relationships are intrinsically woven into the fabric of lives. They are hardwired to purpose, and they bring a richness and depth to our meaning. A life without relationships would know nothing of love, encouragement, laughter, or celebration. Even solitude, as enjoyable as it can be, would lack its attractiveness and beauty without the contrast of relationship, being relegated to boredom and monotony. There is no part of our personal or professional lives that is not affected by relationships.

There is also a vital connection between relationships, commitment and our growth, for conflict can help us to see what might otherwise remain hidden beneath the surface, and committed relationships allow us the opportunity to grow in all that we are learning. If relationships do not feel safe and we are afraid of conflict, we will not speak truth and we will not know all that we need to know to be our best.

Personal relationships

The most valued of all relationships in my life, is the one I enjoy with my wife, Karen. We have known each other for over thirty-six years, been married for thirty, and parented 3 children together. No one knows me like Karen. She knows my triumphs and my defeats. She knows my hopes and dreams along with my fears. We have laughed and cried together. We have celebrated the conquest of mountain summits, and we have of incurred the scars of battle in the valleys. As beautiful as the mountain summits have been, the valleys hold the fertile soil for growth.

It might seem trivial, but a simple kitchen conflict can serve as a measurement for how much I can learn about myself with awareness and reflection. Here’s the scenario: Karen likes to follow the recipe, but I prefer to wing it a bit. On the surface, it looks like I just want to do it my way. Diving deeper, I find that I don’t like being told what to do, and that I need to be right in order to affirm my ability. What I’ve learned is that though I generally don’t enjoy the conflict at the time, on reflection it can prove invaluable in the formation of my character.

Relationships within organizations

Management and organizational behavior consultant Margaret Wheatley states, “In organizations, real power and energy is generated through relationships. The patterns of relationships and the capacities to form them are more important than tasks, functions, roles and positions.”

Organizations grow in proportion to the relationships formed. Our capacity to form (and retain) the relationship linkage between shareholders, employees, suppliers, and customers is the vital component in facilitating the growth, profitability and sustainability of any and every organization.

Conflict holds the power to disrupt and even destroy these relationships, but it also provides the opportunity to discover where we can achieve breakthrough improvements in the products and services, organizational efficiencies and even the overall enjoyment of life at work for those involved.

Transforming Conflict

The power of conflict can transition from disruption to discovery when we pay attention to our position and our posture.

  1. Position. Move (literally and/or figuratively) so that the conflict is no longer between you and the other(s). This enables you to face the challenge together, side by side. Personally, this is the greatest gift that Karen has given me. Professionally, it is the gift a leader brings to organizational development.
  2. Posture. Listen and seek to understand the other perspective(s), even if it is painful to hear. You may have to take a personal time out, where you break away from the discussion to cool down or reflect on what has been said. That’s okay, but stay committed to the relationships and persevere to discover what lies beneath the surface. Get curious rather than fearful.
  3. Patience. When I work with leaders I frequently remind them that these are practices and they take time to hone skill in using them.

If we pay attention to our position and posture — with patience — as we lead professionally and as we walk in our personal relationships, we can move from seeing conflict as unavoidable to something that we welcome.

If you have stories of conflict you’ve resolved using one or more of these methods, please consider sharing them with me or the community with an email or comments.