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How to Assume Leadership Without Conflict

By: Hsin-Yi Cohen BSc, MA, MSt - Updated: 19 Sep 2012 | comments*Discuss
Leadership Conflict Lead Leader

It is almost impossible to avoid conflict in any relationships between people. Even with just two people together, there may be differences of opinion and potential for conflict to develop. Part of the skill of effective leadership is the ability to manage conflict and resolve difficult situations. A good leader will guide his or her team to see that the most creative working relationships are those that allow differences of opinion; that it is important to learn that you can disagree with someone but still like and respect them.

Here are some steps to help you assume leadership without conflict:

Step 1 – Confront The Situation

Avoidance might seem like a good idea and in certain cases of small differences; it may be worthwhile “sweeping over issues” rather than risk damaging valuable relationships within the team. However, if the issue is one which is unlikely to be resolved and likely to cause too much friction and damage to working relationships, then it is important to make the time and effort to confront the problem. This may be as simple as asking the person involved for a time to sit down privately and discuss things.

Step 2 - Clarify The Problem

During discussion, it is a good idea to first state your own case briefly, possibly supported by documentation, and then to ask the other person for their side of the story – and to listen fully. While it may be hard, it is essential to try and suspend all judgements and keep an open mind, in order to give the other person a fair trial. Remember, you are still at the communication stage and not the final decision-making stage.

If for some reason, the other person involved is reluctant to be honest about the issues causing conflict, ask them some gentle, open-ended questions, such as “What do you see the problem to be?” or “Your opinion is valued - what do you think?”. Do not attempt to provide answers for them – simply wait in silence. This will usually cause them to realize that they cannot ignore the situation and fob it off with a simple “Yes”, “No” or “I don’t know”.

A powerful communication tool for establishing rapport and getting clear answers is to paraphrase the other person – this shows them that while you may not agree with their point of view, you are trying to see it fro their point of view. This will often encourage them to do the same for you. In fact, studies show that in situations of conflict, summarizing what the other person has to say is more helpful in promoting harmony and establishing rapport than any other communication skill.

Step 3 – Look For Areas Of Agreement

Once both sides of the story have been heard and established, it is a good time to try and find areas of agreement. It may be helpful to make a list of the issues that you agree on and the ones you don’t – you will usually find some in the middle. Remember, if it is in your interest to resolve the conflict and find a compromise then make sure that you only write down the main issues in the “Disagree” column. Just making the areas of agreement look greater than the areas of disagreement can have a positive psychological effect and also help to remind you both that you share common values.

Step 4 – Encourage Each Side To Take Responsibility For The Problem

Normally, all parties involved in a discussion will have contributed to the problem in some way so it is important for everyone involved to take ownership for how you may have contributed to the conflict. Be assertive and make it clear, in a professional way, where you see the other person’s contribution to the problem is – for example, their poor history of telling the truth or their tendency to look for scapegoats. Sometimes, it may help for you to take responsibility for your own portion of responsibility first. This will help to take the other person off the defensive and increase the chances that they will also view their own actions and contributions more honestly and be willing to admit their portion of responsibility.

Step 5 – Finding Solutions To The Problem

Once trust and agreement areas have been established, it becomes a lot easier to find solutions to the problem and resolve the conflict. Brainstorming together can be very effective at not only finding solutions but also re-establishing camaraderie. This will also give everyone involved a chance to contribute to the solution, thus raising the chances that everyone will be happy with the final decision.

Very often, discussions will reach an impasse at Step 4. If this happens, it may be better to end the meeting and re-schedule to try again later. Alternatively, using a mediator may help to move things forward and resolve the conflict.

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