You don’t see eye-to-eye with your boss. A teammate routinely criticizes your ideas. And it seems half your time is spent mediating disputes among direct reports. You know you need to get a better handle on the conflict in your organization, but how?
According to Craig Runde and Tim Flanagan, authors of Becoming a Conflict Competent Leader, the first step is to focus on your own understanding of conflict. As you become more effective and confident in your ability to respond to conflict, you can influence and coach others to improve their conflict competence.
Runde and Flanagan believe leaders must do 4 things to become a conflict-competent leader:
- Learn about conflict. Gain some understanding of the dynamics of conflict. You don’t have to be an expert in human nature, but take some time to learn how common behaviors — such as the fight-or-flight response — come into play during a conflict. Learn about the “retaliatory cycle” — a pattern of response that causes conflict to seem to spin out of control.
- Understand your personal reactions. What is your gut reaction to conflict? And what is your rational response? Know yourself, so you can manage your response to conflict and model the most effective behavior. Just as important, you need to understand your conflict triggers or “hot buttons.” If you’re aware of what sets you off, you can better control your response to conflict.
- Replace destructive with constructive. Constructive behaviors include perspective taking, creating solutions, expressing emotions, reaching out, reflective thinking, delaying responding, and adapting. Destructive behaviors include winning at all costs, displaying anger, demeaning others, retaliating, avoiding, yielding, hiding emotions, and self-criticizing. It’s your choice which behaviors to show.
- Creating a conflict-competent organization. As leaders gain competence in conflict, they can extend that knowledge to the organization. A leader models constructive behaviors, but also supports and coaches others in their efforts to manage conflict competently.