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Conflict & Leadership

As on-going change and a threatened economy become a dominant reality in Calgary and beyond, the opportunities for conflict multiply.

In organizations and institutions stressful situations can intensify differences of opinions and magnify differing values that can divide people.  Effective Leaders are required to navigate the issues in tough times and unite people together to achieve innovative solutions.

Mark Gerzon in Leading through Conflict identifies eight tools that every leader needs to manoeuver their way through difficult situations and turn unproductive conflict into productive conflict where innovation can flourish.

1.     Integral Vision

Before we charge ahead, step back and look at the situation from a different perspective.  Can we turn away from the ‘you’ against ‘me’ to stand together as ‘us’ against the problem?

2.     Systems Thinking

Can we understand the whole problem and identify all the elements creating the conflict situation and the relationship between these elements.

3.     Presence

This is the ability to be fully in the moment, engaging all our resources and not just relying on our thinking brains, but our whole selves, emotionally, spiritually and physically.  What are we noticing in the conversation?  What are we feeling?  What is behind what others are displaying in their behaviours?  Awareness is a fundamental skill when managing conflict in ourselves and others.

4.     Inquiry

Asking questions is the key.  It’s difficult to be curious when we are in the heart of conflict.  How can we transform the conflict if we do not understand it?  Asking the right questions helps others understand their role in the conflict.  Can we dig down to the heart of the problem and keep asking and then what? What do you need to do to be open to really listening to what you hear?

5.     Conscious Conversation

We all have a choice in how we speak and listen.  Participants in difficult conversations are often reacting mindlessly in an ongoing loop of attacks and counterattacks.  As a leader we need to support others to have a different type of conversation, shifting away from positions to discussing values and interests. Taking time to ensure we build understanding before focusing on solutions.

6.     Dialogue

Building trust is the first step in resolving conflict and dialogue is the path to get there.  Genuine dialogue occurs when participants move away from defensiveness and become open to really hearing the other side.  It lays the foundation to discover new options and gives rise to innovation.

7.     Bridging

Bridging is the process of building partnerships and alliances that cross the division in an organization.  The bridge is constructed by trust, respect, empathy, understanding and collaboration. When the energy between the parties changes the conflict can be transformed.  This shift takes time to create and is generated by focusing conversations on values and interests to build understanding – not agreement.

8.     Innovation

Innovation is the breakthrough that creates new options for moving through conflicts.  Those options will point to a new plan that requires the buy-in of all involved.  If this does not occur the plan will not be sustainable in the long term.  We may need to go back to the drawing board to ensure we meet the needs of all participants.

Being a leader in conflict takes time and patience. It is an iterative process with ups and downs.  It entails reaching into the past when required, staying in the present and focusing on the future once participants have shifted.  Good leaders build the skills that it takes to transform conflict and support those around them to get to the other side.

The Workplace Fairness Institute works to support leaders to develop their conflict competence.

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