Conflict as a Change Catalyst

“Successful leaders manage conflict; they don’t shy away from it or suppress it but see it as an engine of creativity and innovation. Some of the most creative ideas come out of people in conflict remaining in conversation with one another rather than flying into their own corners or staking out entrenched positions. The challenge for leaders is to develop structures and processes in which such conflicts can be orchestrated productively.” 

Ronald Heifetz and Marty Linsky

Conflict is a natural part of personal and professional interpersonal interactions. While it can be uncomfortable, conflict is a catalyst that enables change and progress.

Some people view conflict as unhealthy; consequently, it is left unmanaged or inappropriately managed.

Other than outright mismanaging conflict, unhealthy conflict happens when disputes are ignored, denied, avoided, or suppressed. Doing so stifles creativity and promotes assimilation rather than inviting authenticity, transparency, respect, integration of differences, and growth through new learnings.

Managing conflict takes time and effort, and it is an essential aspect of leadership.  

A Conflict Management Model

The Thomas-Kilmann Conflict Model covers five modes of conflict management:

  • Collaborating gets to a win-win solution.
  • Competing happens when one individual wins at the other’s expense.
  • Avoiding is an intentional action to sidestep the conflict and let it take a natural course.
  • Accommodating satisfies one person’s concerns at the expense of the other.
  • Compromising finds an acceptable solution that partially addresses the concerns of all involved.

Low-Hanging Fruit

Here are quick tips for managing conflict:

  1. Weigh the Situation. 

Determine if it is appropriate to engage in addressing the conflict now or at a later time. Waiting to address later is not ignoring, denying, avoiding, or suppressing the conflict. Instead, it means giving yourself time and space to determine an appropriate strategy.

  1. Engage in Discovery. 

Don’t presume; ask questions to clarify and understand.

  1. Listen Intently. 

Acknowledge what the person is communicating. Pay attention to your body language, so there are no conflicting signals. Resist the impulse to explain and defend. Instead, actively listen, restating what you hear to ensure you receive the intended message.

  1. Neutralize Friction. 

Maintain attention to the business implications rather than focusing on attributes personal to the individual. In addition, use “I” rather than “you” statements when sharing your perspectives – this will help to reduce the potential for hostility and defensiveness.

Ultimately, intentionally managed conflict could improve the team's strength, raise employee engagement, and boost productivity and performance.

While conflict is sometimes unwanted, it is a necessary condition for progress. Contact me for a complimentary consultation as you fortify your leadership approach to managing conflict.

Lillian Davenport, SPHR, SHRM – SCP, CTACC, Principal, End View Solutions, LLC

Lillian Davenport

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Lillian Davenport is a coach, consultant, and leadership strategist. Her signature program, M3 LeadershipSM, prepares you to enhance and develop your self-awareness, embrace your inner strength, and lead with confidence, courage, and impact.

Lillian’s career as a human resources leader includes roles at JPMorgan Chase & Co., Woodforest National Bank, and American International Group, Inc. (AIG), where she leveraged employee relations, and diversity, equity, and inclusion expertise in leadership development.