Wouldn’t it be great if we always got along? I’m not sure it would always be a good thing because everyone agreeing would mean we would explore new options less frequently. But for good or ill, we don’t have to worry about that. There will always be conflicts.
Handling conflicts requires two aspects of social intelligence: understanding your emotions and managing them. How do you normally respond when you feel attacked or judged? Do you go on the offensive? Do you try to prove you are not responsible? Or do you deflect and try to show how you were misunderstood, and that isn’t what you meant or intended?
As Socrates said, “To know thyself is the beginning of wisdom.” You must be honest about your own behaviors to be able to manage the response. Remember, the conflict won’t be defused unless calm heads prevail, and it starts with you. A question to keep in mind is, “Do you want to be right, or do you want it to work?” Because, if you want to be right, it won’t work.
In her post, How Leaders Can Start Building Conflict Capacity, Marlene Chism defines conflict capacity as, the “ability to tolerate conflict without getting triggered into unconscious reactions.” She notes it requires self-awareness, which boils down to knowing yourself. Chism then offers four ways to develop the necessary capacity.
- Reframe Conflict – Mindset is always crucial. If you see conflict as two sides fighting each other, you are likely to focus on being right and winning. Instead, view it as a chance to explore where things aren’t working with the goal of improving the situation. A challenge almost always provides an opportunity. This disagreement provides the impetus to move forward in a better way.
- Get Curious – Rather than thinking some form of “Well, they’re wrong,” find out why and how they came to their viewpoint. Chism says you do this by inviting conversation with questions like “Will you walk me through your thinking?” or “I’m curious. How did you come to that decision?” This pauses the heat that is building. It also communicates your willingness to listen rather than drown out what they are saying.
- Expand Your Comfort Zone – When you are dealing with people with low conflict capacity, as defined by Chism, it is hard to resist interrupting them. Don’t. Let them go on. Eventually, they will lose steam. As the person keeps talking, keep your focus on listening for the core issue that set them off. It will help you respond when they get to the end of their rant, and it will also send a further message that you see them and their issue.
- Seek Mentoring – This recommendation is to build relationships before the crisis comes. You know which teachers have the reputation as complainers. In an organization, there are always some who don’t want to follow the leader. When you interact with these people, be sure to do your best to release what you’ve heard and connect. Get to understand them, and what motivates them. Any challenges that come – and they mostly likely will—will be less heated because of your pre-existing relationship. Don’t neglect the relationship with your principal. This connection shouldn’t wait for a crisis. Find reasons to ask for their advice and support – and listen to it.
When you change your perspective, conflicts can become opportunities. The more you grow as a leader, the more of these you will need to deal with. Learning to manage yourself and handle these challenges are an important part of building strong relationships and part of your growth. Keep going.