Why Conflict Is Good—And How to Embrace It as a Manager

January 20, 2020

Why Conflict Is Good—And How to Embrace It as a Manager

Succeeding as a leader means being a master of relationships. You need to know how to connect with people at all levels in the organization through the good and the bad—especially the bad. 

Because where there’s conflict, there’s an opportunity to grow. 

“If your team is wrought with conflict and respond to each other in a tit for tat fashion your department will be flying blind because no one trusts each other,” says Simon T. Bailey in Leading through Relationships. “But you can change things and make it better.”

Use these three strategies to make conflict more productive and challenge yourself to relate to people in new ways.

#1 Proactively manage team conflict

As a leader, one of your responsibilities is to recognize and mitigate negative conflict. Start by assessing each person’s approach to problem solving and don’t be afraid to adjust teams as needed.

Maybe you have two employees who are approaching a problem in different ways. They mean well, but they’re not working together and butting heads. Figure out how people are wired so you can put the right people on the right problem at the right time. 

And if things don’t work out? When discontent starts brewing, address the root of the conflict immediately. 

“If the leader doesn't address conflict quickly it sends a message to the rest of the team that negative behavior is okay,” says Bailey.

Learn how to reframe conflict and your teams will run more smoothly. And bonus: you’ll be modeling great leadership. 

#2 Create friction—on purpose

Bailey shares a story of a leader he worked for years ago who intentionally stirred up conflict in order to keep everyone on their toes and push the envelope to get the team to explore new ideas. 

While you don’t want to instigate unnecessary dissension among your team, you can use this tactic sparingly to spark new ideas.

If you have people on opposite sides of an idea, don’t try to rush resolution—as the leader, let things simmer and encourage further debate. By doing this, you’ll encourage people to tap into their passion, fight for their ideas, and engage with opposing opinions in a civil way.

According to Bailey, this kind of conflict can bring forth some of the best ideas.

#3 Build relationships with your critics

“The more critics you have, the more opportunities you have to grow as a leader,” says Bailey. 

Instead of running away from negative comments, work on actively building relationships with them. Solicit feedback and ask questions so you can better understand their perspective and use their critique to your advantage. 

If you hear that someone has feedback but isn’t comfortable approaching you, seek them out. Give them permission to address their concerns directly with you. You can say:  “It has come to my attention that you have some feedback I need to hear. I'd like to learn more.”

Then ask questions to get more context on how you can improve. Bailey says asking questions will stretch the critic because they have to back up their critique, and it will stretch you because you'll really start to see where you can do better. 

When you listen well and thank your critic for the input, you open the door to ongoing productive dialogue and deeper relationships.

For more advice on leading others through conflict and creating a culture of insiders, watch Leading through Relationships with Simon T. Bailey.

Learn how to create a culture of insiders, lead others through change and conflict, encourage meaningful communication and collaboration, and more.

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