Nothing Personal: Conflict at Work

Posted by on Jan 25, 2014 in ComLead, Organizational Leadership

If you had to describe conflict in one word, what would you say?

Fighting? Angry? Uncomfortable?

What about opportunity?

Conflict is rarely fun. It can get messy and complicated, and it is never simple to navigate. But it is also a conduit to new solutions and creative ideas. Conflict shakes us out of the status quo, and makes us think critically about our environment, our strengths and our goals. Leaders who view conflict as an opportunity rather than a danger are more likely to find successful and creative solutions.

As a leader, I wish I could see conflict as an opportunity more than a danger every time I encounter it. But changing our attitude toward conflict is easier said than done – especially when we’re leading complicated people and organizations through complex environments and problems.

Know Thyself


How do we change our attitude toward conflict? First, by knowing how we deal with conflict now. Are you more flight than fight? Would you rather avoid it altogether? Here are some great questions to help you understand your conflict personality:

  1. Do you often think about who is to blame?
  2. Do you often feel there’s only one way to solve a problem?
  3. Do you often feel you need to defend yourself or that others are knowingly taking advantage of you?
  4. In conflict, do you feel your hands are tied?
  5. Do you use “I” statements (“I feel disappointed when…”) more often than “you” statements (“You made me angry when…”)?

Danger Zone

If you found yourself identifying with most of these questions, you are probably one of the many people who just hate conflict. For you, conflict might be personal – and that makes it uncomfortable and frustrating.

Making a mindful effort to stop taking conflict personally is difficult, and every conflict is a new test. To get started try:

  • Taking time to walk away and cool off when things get heated.
  • Shift your focus from placing blame to discovering solutions.
  • Recognize that multiple solutions can often be found. Ask those around you for their insight.

Remember: there are many solutions, and the more you focus on the problem for than the people, the quicker it will transform from a problem to an opportunity.

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