Conflict is as difficult as it is inevitable, and by “conflict” I don’t mean having a literal fight. Conflict can manifest any time you have a difficult discussion with someone else, and how you handle it says a lot about you as a leader.
No one “likes” confrontation, although some are better able to handle having difficult conversations with others, and able to refrain from distancing themselves from the consequences when they occur. That doesn’t just apply to the messenger, but also those who need to support the message once it is done.
Imagine a situation. You sit in front of an employee who needs something from you, whether an objective talent or performance appraisal, or an answer to a question they have posed that just lingers out there. Some common bad answers? “I have to be fair,” or “It’s out of my control,” or – my favorite – “It’s not you, it’s the organization, my hands are tied.” None of these do the employee any justice, and can in fact damage long-term performance and personal or organizational loyalty. Put simply, responses like these destroy your personal leadership signature. The same can be said about handling conflict in your personal or social relationships.
I might also point out that coming across heavy-handed and domineering doesn’t work, but that is a subject for another article.
How well do you handle conflict? Ask yourself these questions:
- Do I deflect hard messages towards something or someone else? The first sign of function or dysfunction in conflict management is whether you take ownership of the issue, or blame it on another person or organizational dynamics.
- How do I support others who must have difficult conversations? Do you support the decisions communicated even in the face of negative response from the receiver, or do you try to distance yourself from it to protect your own reputation?
- How do I support the receiver post-conflict? Conflict rarely ends after someone leaves the room. Do you make yourself available to help them process the emotional side of the conflict or do you assume that it is over when the person when you are done?
The right response is to be honest and forthright, every time and every day. Don’t try to be “fair,” or at least not to the extent that it dilutes your message. Your fairness lies in your ability to be honest with someone sitting across from you and letting them process the truth along the way. Don’t try to blame others for tough decisions you need to make or the feedback you need to convey. And be available to help people process their responses, but don’t indulge the potential blind sides – a general unwillingness to hear hard messages and act on them.
Overall, be firm but compassionate, and make sure that you are factual in your feedback. Personal or professional, be the kind of leader that people want to respect – a strong, honest, up-front one with empathy and compassion for those around you.