Are you in the majority of people who see conflict as destructive and avoid it at all costs? Or do you see conflict as an essential ingredient to create a healthy organization and reap the rewards of continuous improvement?

The root cause of most conflict is ignorance – either I don’t fully understand your perspective or you don’t understand mine. Therefore the answer is education – I need to be educated about your thoughts and feelings and you need to be educated about mine.

The more emotional the reaction to conflict, the less likely that rational, logical arguments will prevail. As a leader, here are three tips to harness the positive side of workplace conflict.

Conflict Tip 1: Be Curious Not Furious 
Curiosity is perhaps a leader’s greatest asset. It replaces harsh judgement or overly passive victim thinking. Be curious about why the other person is so upset and what some possible solutions might be. Curiosity will encourage you to listen and understand the other person’s point of view and speak calmly about your perspective. Staying curious will help you discover win/win solutions that build on the ideas from multiple perspectives.

Conflict Tip 2: Acknowledge Emotion to Get to Logic
Emotion overrides logic. Listen without interruption, acknowledge what you’ve heard and then suggest alternative perspectives. To be a good diffuser of emotion it helps to match the emotional intensity of the other person without actually arguing with them. When the other person sees and hears that you “get them” they will tend to calm down and be more rational.
An example would be a two-year-old who screams, “I want a cookie, I want a cookie.” If the mother or father simply uses a calm, kindergarten teacher’s voice it won’t show an understanding of the emotional intensity. Instead, the parent could use a similar voice tone with these words, “I know you want a cookie, I know you want a cookie, and you can’t have a cookie right now because we are going to have dinner soon.”

Conflict Tip 3: Remain Calm and Respectful
Conflict situations can bring out disrespectful behavior from the leader. Talking down to someone, yelling at them or demeaning them will only cause bigger problems for the leader. Supervisors, managers and team leaders are held to a higher standard of acceptable behavior than the workers they supervise.
To help leaders stay calm and cool in difficult situation it helps to offer specific training in dealing with difficult situations and conversations. A leader can also make a conscious choice to step away from the situation for a few minutes, call for back up or breathe deeply to regain emotional control.

The value from conflict comes from harnessing the different perspectives, backgrounds and experiences of the people involved to drive the best possible outcome. We help by providing training to front line supervisors, managers and team leaders.