How To Handle Conflict In Leadership

July 19, 2013 — 24 Comments
How To Handle Conflict In Leadership | Joseph Lalonde

Conflicts arise in every relationship. Whether it’s conflict with your spouse, conflict with a friend, or conflict with a team member.

Anger will arise. You’ll want to air your frustrations. You’ll want to kill the relationships.

Instead, I encourage you to deal with the conflict. Learn how to handle conflicts as they come at you.

Image by Louis K.

Image by Louis K.

In most instances, you’ll be able to reconcile and resolve the conflict. This is the ideal solution.

We want conflicts handled quickly and nicely.

If you do is up to you. Let’s first look at:

What Not To Do

Often when we’re faced with conflict, our minds begin to race. Anger can begin to seep in.

Resentment. Hatred. Hurt. Distrust.

These are some of the feelings you’ll probably feel.

What you don’t want to do is focus on these emotions. They’re deadly and will destroy your ability to lead effectively.

There’s also actions you’ll never want to take. They are:

Gossip: Never, ever gossip about the conflict you’re involved in. It’s tempting to share the details with everyone you know. Don’t do it!

Gossip is toxic. It’ll eat away at you and destroy your image. Gossiping makes you look petty. Gossiping is ugly. Gossiping is an easy out.

Blow up: It’s mighty easy to get angry during a conflict and blow up. You might want to say vicious words that tear the other person apart. Once again, don’t do it.

Once you’ve spoken the words, they can never be taken back. Even if you didn’t really mean what you said. The words are out there. They’ve been spoken. They’ve been heard by the person you spoke them to.

Learn to control your anger. Speak in a calm tone and keep it together man!

Walk away: On the opposite end of the spectrum, there’s the option to walk away from the relationship. This isn’t a wise decision either.

Walking away is showing you don’t care. That you’re better off without them (sure, sometimes this is the case but the majority of the time it isn’t).

Don’t give up on the relationship with your team member. Be willing to work it out.

How You Handle Conflict

We’ve seen what we don’t want to do. We don’t want to gossip, blow up, or walk away from a conflict.

Let’s take a look at what we can do to handle conflict. These actions will not be easy. Yet they’ll save relationships, build better connections, and allow you to lead better.

Approach the person you’re having an issue with: Conflicts can start with a breakdown of communication. People are unwilling to tackle the issue head on and they’ll run away. Be the leader and approach your team member when you can sense an issue brewing.

Open the lines of communications and find out what’s going on.

Be willing to apologize: Wait… You want me to apologize? Yes, yes I do. I want you to be willing to apologize to the other person. Even if you feel you’ve done no wrong.

Apologies are able to soften the offended party. They’re more willing to listen to what you have to say after you’ve said “I’m sorry.”

Handle the issue quietly: This goes along with what not to do and the trouble of gossip. We need to be willing to handle conflict quietly.

There’s no reason to air dirty laundry and hang others out to dry. Instead, deal with the conflict as quietly as possible and keep it between the people involved.

Deal with the conflict quickly: Don’t let the issue fester. If you know there’s a problem, go quickly and do your best to resolve it.

The longer you wait, the harder it will be to correct. Do it quickly now and save the time later.

Question: How do you handle conflicts in leadership? Please share your thoughts in the comment section below.

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  • Lorraine Marie Reguly

    Stop. Take a deep breath. Pray.
    Figure out your best course of action, and then implement it.

    • Joe Lalonde

      Great steps Lorraine. Do you have any suggestions on figuring out the best course of action?

      • Lorraine Marie Reguly

        Yes. Sit down with both parties and act as a mediator. Try to get each to see the others’ side. Remind them to keep an open mind. Use analogies, if that will help. Each situation is different, so further steps may depend on what the problem is, but finding the source of the conflict is a great starting point!

        • Joe Lalonde

          Thanks for sharing those tips. I’m sure they’ll be helpful!

  • Jon D Harrison

    I think even the best of us can always work to improve the ways we handle conflict. Often I have learned that I need to double check my opinions and thoughts about the other person before I jump into conflict.

    I remind myself that the other person is doing the best they have with the information they have available, and I owe it to them to do the same. We need mutual understanding.

    A lot of listening as well.

    It is really important to do a lot of listening at this point. I know sometimes others can start ranting and raving – In fact, here is how you can interrupt people and not look like a total jerk in the process (just posted this morning!)

    • Joe Lalonde

      Jon, I like what you said. Our opinions of others can cloud the way we think and respond to their actions. Getting our minds wrapped around the situation and person helps us respond correctly.

      • Jon D Harrison

        Exactly. The next thing you know, you are guilty the Fundamental Attribution Error, Confirmation Bias, the Pygmalian Effect, and all other sorts of fun!

  • Jim Ryan

    Nice post. If you don’t handle conflict privately everyone will gossip about it and embellish how bad it was. Making you look like a child. Not that it has ever happened to me :(

    • Joe Lalonde

      That’s a bummer Jim. Sounds like you’ve had a bad experience with trying to resolve conflict.

  • Justin Buck

    This is great, Joe. Sometimes I get bogged down thinking every conflict has a victor. In fact, if the conflict is resolved, there can be TWO or MORE victors. By contrast, if we “stick to our guns” in a conflict that needs to be resolved, there are almost always TWO or MORE losers.

    In very few cases there is a need to end relationships. In the rest, there is an enormous amount of pride clouding our judgment of what the best outcome could be.

    • Jon D Harrison

      You are right Justin – if both sides of the conflict can work towards a mutually desirable outcome, the results can be greater than either side getting their way to begin with.

      • Justin Buck

        Exactly! There’s a third “side” to every conflict– what could happen if we put down our pride and work toward a mutual benefit!

    • Joe Lalonde

      Justin, I love how you brought the win-win concept into conflict resolution. When it’s solved correctly, all parties win.

      • Justin Buck

        Absolutely. “Victory” in a conflict is short-lived. True victory is achieved for both parties in a way that doesn’t merely set the terms of the next battle!

  • Jon Stolpe

    Such great advice, Joe. I’ll admit that I’m more likely to walk away than to deal with the conflict. As leaders, we need to be willing to face conflict with an eye towards restoration, building, and long-term outcome. Level heads prevail!!!

    • Joe Lalonde

      I’m similar to you in that respect Jon. While I can deal with conflict, it’s much easier to walk away but I also know it’s not the right way to handle conflict.

  • Brandon R Allen

    I like to start conflict resolution by being supportive of the person that I am talking and letting them know that I value them. The rest of the conversation seems to go a lot better when I handle it that way.

    • Jon D Harrison

      Good way to start Brandon – if we let others know our intentions good, and we really do have their best interest in mind, we can head off a lot of complications.

    • Joe Lalonde

      That goes a long way Brandon. Starting off on the right foot is key to getting a good resolution.

    • Tom Dixon

      Sounds like you are talking about separating the person from the issue causing conflict – great advice!

  • Tom Dixon

    Ken Sande’s The Peacemaker gives some great tips on this also – and is where I picked up a ton of techniques. First, is to recognize that a lot of things are okay to overlook. Does the difference make a difference? If not – then let it go or overlook the wrong. I tend to be a peacemaker (avoid conflict) and that is something I have to watch.

    • Joe Lalonde

      That’s a book I’ve never heard of Tom. I’ll be checking that out as it sounds like a terrific read.

      I’m really liking the idea of overlooking the things that don’t make a different. Sometimes it’s a personality issue or an annoying habit. In the long run, doesn’t matter but we make a big deal out of it.

  • Dan Black

    It’s important during a conflict talking with the person about the specific issue at hand is so essential. This means we should not bring up past problems or issues that are not relevant. Great post Joe!

    • Joe Lalonde

      Love your additional point Dan. Bringing up the past, unless it’s relevant, only exasperates the current issue.