Leadership Simplified: Doug Van Dyke


Conflict Management

Volume: April 2013

By Doug Van Dyke, Leadership Simplified, www.leadershipsimplified.com


Norman and a fellow leader in his organization, Sarah, were at odds. They differed in opinions regarding how to proceed on a major work initiative. The impasse they had reached had spilled over to their team members, who were increasingly short with one another. There were two areas where Norman and Sarah were on the same page. The first was that they both hated conflict. As a result, when conflict arose in the workplace both Sarah and Norman avoided it like the plague. The second was neither wanted their boss to intervene and “solve” their problem. That would be hazardous to their careers.


This scenario could be palatable if Sarah and Norman were individual contributors. However, they were both leaders and had been for a while. In fact, each of them ran fairly substantial organizations. At the present time, those organizations were feuding like the Hatfield’s and the McCoy’s (minus the shooting and the spitting, of course). An element that was escalating all of the team member’s frustration was the fact that their respective leaders were keeping their head in the sand with regard to the many conflicts and disagreements that were taking place.


What to do, what to do? You know, most people do not like conflict. However, from a leadership perspective, this can be a deadly trait. There are five types of conflict management strategies, and avoidance is – you guessed it – the most popular. Yet, avoiding conflict is always counterproductive. So how can Sarah and Norman manage conflict, and head toward conflict resolution? The answer is not easy, but there is an answer.


First, Norman (or Sarah) needs to take a deep breath and communicate the issue to their colleague. This can be as easy as taking 60-seconds and simply stating: “In my opinion, we have an issue to resolve. Can we talk about it for one brief moment?” Honestly, this is all it takes to begin to move down a potentially positive path. If the other person has no interest in communicating with you, dig in your heels and get ready for battle because they just told you that “it’s winner take all.” Ninety-five percent of the time though, your colleague will talk with you.    


Second, express an interest in a win-win solution. Leadership is a long game. If you are not interested in having your colleagues win at the same time that you win, then you are not a leader. You might be a good manager, but a leader? No. Solid leaders position other people to win – to save face – to avoid losses – to be successful.


Third, ask your colleague if they will meet with you the following day for 30-minutes to craft a working agreement and discuss workplace expectations. Give them a day to ponder what they truly expect of you and your team. Similarly, give yourself a few moments to jot down what you expect of your colleague and their team.


Fourth, during your working agreement meeting listen attentively and do not interrupt your colleague when they share what they expect of you and your team. The better you listen to them, the better they will listen to you. Plus, you will give them a chance to vent, share misperceptions, and air out their frustrations.


Fifth, agree to the expectations that make sense to you and disagree with the expectations that seem unreasonable. Also, allow your colleague to do the same. Let’s face it, you will not agree on everything, but you will agree on most things.


Sixth, stay in integrity regarding the expectations on which you both agreed. This is a huge part of the collaboration process. By staying in integrity to what you committed, you will build respect with each other. As you and colleague(s) increase your respect-factor, so too will your levels of trust be elevated. And trust is the foundation of all solid working relationships. Remember, you do not have to like everyone you work with, just seek to build respect.


Seventh, schedule follow up meetings to determine if each of you is meeting the others’ expectations. In addition, each of you may want to modify some of your expectations, as well as add additional expectations. Conflict management is a process, not an event. Keep it moving forward by holding follow up meetings that allow for frequent, open communication.


By the way, Norman actually got gutsy and approached Sarah about their workplace conflict. Their initial exchange was uncomfortable, at best. However, they both wanted the situation to improve, and they agreed to meet and discuss expectations. In this regard, they selected a facilitator to assist them. Eventually, they even got their teams involved in the process. Did they resolve all of their conflicts? In short, no, they did not. While their situation is not ideal, it is workable. Both leaders and their teams are moving forward on their initiatives. As a result, they are meeting a majority of their bosses’ expectations, as well as setting the table for future collaborations that are more conciliatory. 


Bottom Line: It takes communication, focus, follow up, and some guts to manage conflict. The worst possible scenario is to avoid conflict – this is always counterproductive. Conflict rarely goes away on its own. So man-up or woman-up or person-up or pursue whatever politically correct path you choose. The conflicts you resolve will result in more effective collaboration, vastly improved results, and greater peace of mind. So get gutsy today, my friends, and resolve some conflict in your world! 



Doug Van Dyke is a Tampa Bay based leadership and collaboration consultant who has facilitated hundreds of conflict management sessions across the United States. To learn more about conflict resolution, executive coaching, and leadership development programs, contact .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) or visit www.leadershipsimplified.com. 


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