Pretend for a moment you are driving down the road and suddenly a bug hits your windshield.
It doesn’t matter what kind of bug, it could be a big green one, a small black one, or yellow one. The size doesn’t matter either, but the impact on the windshield surprises, shocks, and distracts you. You start focussing on the bug instead of on the road and where you were going. Now you have a choice, you can continue to focus on the bug and risk having an accident, or you can chose to wash the bug away and return your focus to your destination.
Conflicts are like having bugs on your windshield – they are a distraction, and until they are cleaned away, they will continue to be a distraction. Think about all the destruction in the world, past and present, because unresolved conflicts or bugs have distracted people, even stalling the progress of entire countries for years.
As a leader it is your inherent responsibility to ensure that any and all conflicts, or potential conflicts, are dealt with expeditiously. A few key guidelines will help this process:
The individuals who have the conflict need to be the ones who resolve the conflict. One of the biggest mistake leaders make is to jump immediately into the middle, assuming the role of mediator or rescuer.
Coach people to deal with the issues themselves. Coach them to deal with conflict by discussing ways of approaching the problem, and how to communicate in an open manner. I teach the use of the following expressions:
This is what I expected – this is what I thought should happen/ was going to happen.
This is what happened – this is what I feel happened and this is how I feel.
Please tell me about it – please let me know how you feel. If people plan exactly what they want to say before they begin their conversation, using these expressions as guidelines, it can diffuse the conflict, and clean away the bug.
If, ultimately, you do need to get involved make sure you listen to both sides. Too often judgement is made without full knowledge. This causes a perception of injustice and leads to an erosion of trust.
Eliminate the word “YOU” while dealing with conflict. “You didn’t do this” or “You were supposed to…” The word “you” makes things personal. People are likely to become defensive, emotion kicks in, and real listening goes out the window. Try expressions such as, “I felt we agreed that… would happen.”
As a leader, it is especially important that you deal with any issues you have, such as someone not performing well or failing to meet your expectations, in a constructive and timely manner.
The quicker you deal with issues the better it will be:
You will not be distracted by the bug and can stay focused on the activities that are the highest priority, best use of your time that will generate results.
It is easier for individuals to change behaviours if they haven’t practiced the poor behaviour for a long period of time.
You will gain a great deal of respect and develop high trust relationships when you deal effectively with issues.
When people are in conflict and not performing, it affects everyone on the team. Conflict left unattended has everyone looking at the bug.
Honing these skills will help you more readily manage conflict:
Planning – 85% of your success comes from planning. When you plan what you want to say, you can then focus on how you are going to say it, consider your tone, be cognizant of your body language and listen to the responses of others, all key on ensuring clear communication of an issue.
Asking questions – become a master question-asker. Ask open-ended questions that illicit information allowing others to express their viewpoint.
Listen – with an open mind to the responses. Use empathic listening to hear exactly what others are saying, walk in their shoes and be willing to change your mind to a different point of view.
Win/Win – care enough about the other person(s) to work in harmony.
Remember not all conflict is bad. Discovering and dealing with a bug can shake you out of complacency, get you into a new way of thinking, allow others to express their views, build stronger relationships, and develop new ideas. So next time you see a bug, and you will, chose to see it as a challenge and not as a distraction.