Four ways to lead through conflict
Difficulties are meant to rouse, not discourage. The human spirit is to grow strong by conflict. – William E. Channing
French novelist and playwright Alexandre Dumas once had a heated quarrel with a rising young politician. The argument became so intense that a duel was inevitable. Since both men were superb shots they decided to draw lots, the loser agreeing to shoot himself. Dumas lost.
Pistol in hand, he withdrew in silent dignity to another room, closing the door behind him. The rest of the company waited in gloomy suspense for the shot that would end his career. It rang out at last. His friends ran to the door, opened it, and found Dumas, smoking revolver in hand. “Gentlemen, a most regrettable thing has happened,” he announced, “I missed.”
While the way we deal with conflicts has improved, there is still no shortage of conflict. Workplace conflict can be a strong source of stress and your leadership during these times takes skill.
It’s widely known that workplace conflict leads to increased staff turnover and absenteeism. One survey I read stated that 81 percent of HR professionals had seen employees resign as a result of conflict, and 77 percent have noticed increased absenteeism, resulting in increased business cost.
What do you think are the leading contributors to workplace conflict? According to a study, the top five causes of workplace conflict were; warring egos and personality clashes, poor leadership, lack of honesty, stress, and clashing values. While conflict in the workplace may be inevitable, ignoring it is not an option. So what is a leader to do? Here are four suggestions for consideration.
Acknowledge it. Until management acknowledges that there is a problem there is no correcting it. As a leader, you don’t need to be the last in the room to recognize what everyone else knows and experiences. How many employees must leave, how much revenue must you lose, and how much abuse do you think your employees must endure before you act? When you identify the problem you can begin to work on solutions, but not until then. Poor leadership was cited for a reason. Don’t add to the problem through omission.
Welcome it. Yes, welcome it! Warring egos and personalities among your people, when properly channeled, can be one of the single greatest sources of inspiration you need. General George S. Patton was accurate when he said, “If everyone is thinking alike, then somebody isn’t thinking.” When perceived threats are removed and differences are celebrated rather than attacked it can be the turning point in creating the company culture that you’ve been missing. Don’t squelch diversity; welcome it.
Elevate it. Now that you have acknowledged and welcomed conflict you can elevate it to a higher level. Rather than allowing warring personalities to be labeled as enemies, bring them together as allies to channel their creative energies for something good. Invest in a training program like DISC to discover personality styles and how to create the chemistry your team needs to succeed. It’s when you respectfully have everyone on the same page, when values are clear, and communication is honest, that you can learn to see the value conflict can have. It might sound risky, but consider the consequences of inaction.
Celebrate it. Leading through conflict will not be easy. It will take honesty to face your conflict and courage to change it. But once you do you can position yourself to be the benefactor of conflict and not the victim. When your employees see each other as teammates rather than adversaries it can be celebrated. A diversity of thoughts, ideas, and personalities is one of your greatest assets and it should never be destroyed by poor leadership or out-of-control egos. Your workplace should be a place for a celebration.
© 2017 Doug Dickerson