From Clashes to Collaboration: 7 Strategies Empowering Leaders to Harness the Power of Healthy Conflict

A few weeks ago, I shared with you some insights from author and corporate expert Simon Sinek. He spoke about the need for soft skills in today’s workplace – or as he calls them, “human skills,” skills that professionals need in order to be better humans. And one of these “human skills” he saw the need for was having an effective confrontation.

But even more than the general workforce, it is crucial that leaders are learning how to handle conflict.

As Dr. John Maxwell says,

“Everything rises and falls on leadership.”

Leaders strike the tone for their teams. If one area of the working environment is out of balance, it is the leader’s responsibility to set – or reset – the standard.

No leader wants conflict, and no team member wants to perform in a workplace where conflict runs rampant. After all, our teams come together for one common purpose, and conflict seems to only keep that purpose from being realized.

But when identifying the 5 dysfunctions of a team, business management expert Patrick Lencioni talks about fear of conflict – not conflict itself.

This is because conflict comes in two types: healthy and unhealthy.

Healthy conflict includes constructive discussions on important topics relevant to the organization’s goals. When team members disagree, conflict can arise, but healthy conflict can bring together the best of all minds involved, and can even bring the team together when handled well.

Unhealthy conflict, of course, is unproductive, and involves everything from workplace politics to petty squabbles. This is the kind of conflict that most leaders dread. It distracts and detracts. It keeps teams divided and morale low and devastates results. And how leaders address it, or fail to address it, speaks volumes to the team.

Regardless of whether conflict is healthy or unhealthy, there are many ways leaders can prepare to set the best standard.

1. Show restraint when your team is engaged in conflict. According to Patrick Lencioni, it is fear of conflict that causes dysfunction, not conflict itself. When leaders remain calm, they demonstrate to their team that conflict is not something that should disturb them. They can feel free to express their input knowing that any resulting conflict will be handled with consideration.

2. Develop active listening skills. Active listening is not only a leader’s number-one problem detection tool. The ability to hear more than just someone’s words is helpful when team members are in conflict. And when everyone involved sees how intently you are invested, you assure them that conflict resolution is your priority.

3. Avoid taking sides. Impartiality is crucial when leaders are navigating team conflict – and not only the appearance of it, either. Leadership comes with authority but it should only be utilized to put conflict to bed as a last resort. The leader’s role in conflict should be as the facilitator, helping the parties involved to come to their own resolution.

4. Be aware of your emotions and manage them. Last week, I wrote to you about the importance of self-awareness in leadership. Knowing ourselves, our emotional responses, and our priorities helps us maintain control of them when things get heated. This helps us think critically about our responses in conflict instead of reacting on emotion.

5. Choose your words intentionally. Everything about us communicates – what we say, how we say it, how we act or do not act. Every choice we make says something about us that impacts the way that others interact with us, consciously or unconsciously. And as leaders, our words carry weight for our team. Rely on language that is neutral, non-judgmental, and relevant to the discussion.

6. Know when to intervene. There is a point of no return past which conflict can no longer serve, and only harm, the team. At that point, it is best to get involved. Develop discernment to know when that is in each situation.

7. Hold perspective. Although leaders set the tone for their teams, every person’s perspective carries the same weight. We may not have all the answers, and demonstrating a willingness to hear out your team members shows them again that they are free to share their input without fear of setting off conflict.

We live in a world full of people who think differently – arguably, there are 7.8 billion distinct worldviews that exist on the planet today. There is bound to be some clashing. But when we are able to navigate it skillfully, our teams can become all the better for it.

That’s all for now. 😉

Happy Easter!

Florin 🙂

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