While our genetic makeup is programming us to fight or flight when we encounter conflict, we have to make a conscious effort to find a third way. Leadership is a contact sport, but how you handle yourself in that contact very much dictates how you and your relationships with others emerge the other side. Conflict needs to be understood and resolved rather than resisted or avoided. Either “fighting” or “taking flight from” conflict will simply cause the situation to escalate – resolution is the only option, but in the heat of the moment it is far from easy to keep an emotionally level head.
Many conflicts appear because of poor initial communication. Both sides don’t understand each other, and they are seeking to resolve a problem that they understand fundamentally differently. Establishing common ground before any discussion is the first step towards achieving proactive solutions. It may not be the other person’s fault that they are not seeing eye to eye with you, so why attack them? You have to take responsibility to ensure that you are both suitably informed – it could backfire on you later along the line if you pass it off as “their problem.”
Secondly, the embers of conflict are stoked when we let our emotions run riot. When we let our hearts rule our heads, we are often one small step away from making regrettable decisions. You can’t resolve anything if you are not thinking straight. If you make it into a war of egos, there are no winners. If we are being rational, but we feel that the other person is still behaving emotionally, we feel that we will be getting a raw deal, and in this case we will be more likely to walk away and leave matters unresolved.
Once effective communications have been established, and emotions are put to one side, some basic expectations for behaviour are in place, and fight or flight will be less likely. You can then set about getting to the bottom of the issue and finding a resolution.
Firstly, you both need to gain some perspective, and analysing the bigger picture often brings the issues into focus. In listening to each other’s views, you understand what is important to one another and you soon begin to understand where compromises are possible. Successful resolution of any conflict is more about giving than taking, and once you have made that first concession, you should find that the other party will also move in your direction. You have to acknowledge that there will always be events that are out of your control, and seek to work within the realities of the situation. Expecting too much will cause progress to grind to a halt very quickly.
The last aspect of conflict resolution (in my view) is forgiveness. You agree a way forward and you say “don’t worry about it” to each other and agree to avoid the same mistakes next time. Life is too short to harbour a grudge, and we need all the positive relationships that we can in order to make the most of our lot in life.
Don’t leave your conflicts unresolved. Be brave, seek to address them and life will come back into balance soon enough.
Peter Giltrap, Director EdenGroup