Recently, I taught a class on Conflict Resolution and there was a lot of discussion within the class on whether or not a person can prepare for conflict. The class was divided on the issue, which I suppose means we had a conflict—something I was not prepared for! Actually, we agreed that whether or not you could prepare for conflict depended on the level of conflict that you were discussing.
We experience conflict at various levels and with different degrees of intensity. Here are some levels:
- Mild Difference
We all understand the nature and importance of preparing for level 6, but we can also prepare ourselves for level 1, simply by coming to terms with the fact that within any organization or relationship, there is going to be some conflict—even if it is just at the level of mild difference or disagreement. If you are a supervisor and you have some conflict on your team, that doesn’t necessarily mean that you are a bad leader or that you are working with a group of hopeless people. It means you are working with people!
If you never even have mild differences or disagreements within your group, you might see that as a sign of unity, but it may also be a sign of apathy—or repression. Either way, the dynamic energy that it takes for a group to perform at its best may be missing if you take the approach that all conflict is bad.
In a healthy team, you will have many more conflicts at level 1 and 2; a few at level 3, and hopefully, very few or none at levels 4-6. One way to keep conflict from escalating to levels 4 and up is to confront conflict wisely at the lower levels, instead of avoiding or overreacting to it. Here are some things that a leader can do to prepare for conflict:
- Know the situation. Get your facts straight.
- Know your current emotional state. If you are not in control of your own emotions, it’s more likely that things will escalate.
- Know your body language. Make sure your body language is sending the message you want to send. Be self-aware and intentional about that message.
- Know your options. During the discussion, an entirely new idea may emerge, and that’s ok, but you should go into the meeting with some ideas of possible options.
Resolving conflict isn’t fun, but it’s an important part of effective leadership. The more you accept that and prepare yourself for it, the more likely it will be that conflicts do not escalate and result in positive outcomes.