Leadership and conflict

Searching for a good definition of a conflict I found on Internet:

conflict

  • a conflict is a serious disagreement or argument, typically a protracted one,
  • a state of mind in which a person experiences a clash of opposing feelings or needs,
  • a fight, battle or war, or struggle, especially a prolonged struggle; strife
  • a psychic struggle, often unconscious, resulting from the opposition or simultaneous functioning of mutually exclusive impulses, desires, or tendencies,
  • a state of opposition between ideas, interests, etc; disagreement or controversy.

Therefore, a conflict is inevitable natural occurrence; it is a part of our experience demonstrating that we all have our respective ideas. Also at workplace a conflict is an integral part of leadership and management process. Definitively, if all conflicts were erased from the workplace, there would be a feeling of unease, because the atmosphere might appear a bit too sterile and unrealistic. In literature there are different types of conflict(s):

  • Intrapersonal conflict occurs within an individual,
  • Interpersonal conflict refers to a conflict between two individuals,
  • Intragroup conflict is a type of conflict that happens among individuals within a team and
  • Intergroup conflict takes place when a misunderstanding arises among different teams within an organization.
  • Grouping them, literature suggests that at workplace there are (only) two types of conflict: healthy and un-constructive. So, it is said that a healthy conflict can benefit a business and leads to a more innovative, inclusive and learning mind-set around disputes.

Being in conflict can be really bothersome: to deal with a person who has different views from yours can be daunting. Therefore, a leader has to put a lot of effort and knowledge when trying to resolve a conflict efficiently.

conflict resolution

Resolving a conflict may take time. It ultimately depends on the conflict scale and personalities involved. The outcome should be a peaceful solution to individuals and groups that are in conflict. As in all things the best answer is always win-win situation (see blog: Problem solving and Leadership). But, as there are a lot of means and strategies involved in all conflicts and dealing with them, this can be hard to achieve. For me the most important guide lines that can help you as a leader to detect, deal and resolve a conflict are:

emotional intelligence

  • Recognizing, changing and avoiding rooted patterns,
  • Improve emotional intelligence at workplace on all levels,
  • Learning to see and accept the validity of different perspectives,
  • Releasing negative energy, e.g. by a catalyst,
  • Efficiently implementing conflict management.

A leader should be aware that, when a conflict situation arises, people involved too often focus on the incident/situation/sequence of events. They usually solely focus on cause and consequences thusly forgetting the lesson to be learnt (see blog: Cause and consequence / Urgent and important ). Through conflict they mostly protect their position. They do not want to “lose”.  In those situations a leader should have a different way to pivot the attention away from the actual source of the conflict and focus on what has been learned as a result of the conflict. It is a win-win way to reshape un-constructive to constructive/healthy conflicts that can bring relief and new positive ideas to workplace.

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