In a recent executive coaching survey conducted by Navalent and co-sponsored by Stanford Graduate School of Business, Center for Leadership Development and Research 203 CEO’s, senior executives and directors said their greatest area of coaching need was conflict management. Specifically, when serving multiple constituencies, how do you navigate conflicting agendas and the relational conflict that ensues?
In our experience the need for conflict management skill is something all leaders encounter, including CEO’s. It is a master skill of all conscious leaders (and conscious people). We offer five keys to help navigating conflict if you want to be a transformational leader who moves themself and their team to a whole new level of effectiveness.
1. Hold your story lightly and encourage others to do the same. Destructive conflict occurs when stakeholders fight to be right. Conscious leaders learn at a deep level that ego driven leadership is built upon the need to be seen as being right. Being right is not the issue, it is needing to be seen by everyone as being right that causes dysfunctional conflict. Everyone has an opinion, a belief, a way of seeing the issue and leaders are confident that their way of seeing things is right. Great leaders go beyond this. They actually develop the ability to have an opinion, yet hold the opinion lightly. This doesn’t mean that they lack conviction. What it means is that they can suspend their conviction in order to really listen to others, learn and create win for all solutions.
Key Question: How is the opposite of my story as true or truer than my story?
2. Listen deeply from the head, the heart and the gut. The environment for all unhealthy conflict is non-listening. In fact, it is impossible to have destructive conflict if all parties deeply listen to one another. Great leaders are great listeners. They learn to listen from their head for content. They listen until they fully understand another’s point of view AND until the other believes their point of view is understood. Conscious leaders also listen from the heart. They listen for the feelings of those involved in the issue. This cornerstone quality of leaders with high EQ (emotional intelligence) creates an environment of empathic connection which allows for great collaboration. Without validating what another is feeling the issue often keeps recirculating. Finally, great leaders listen from their gut for what it is that all the stakeholders most deeply want. When a leader listens for what others really want they can often see new paths to resolution that a non-listening leader can’t see.
Key Question: What does the other person think, feel and most deeply want?
3. Face what you most want to avoid facing. Conflict is often the outward expression of the inward reality that a leader is not fully facing a key issue in their organization, team or life. When we don’t fully face the key issues of our lives, conflict keeps coming back and remains unresolved. Currently, we are coaching one CEO who has recurring conflict with his CFO. They have been together for 11 years and have had a great run. But now one thing after another becomes a conflict. They are working in a fairly constant state of tension. What the CEO has been unwilling (until now) to face is that he is done with his CFO. The work has grown beyond his once trusted ally. But rather than fully face the ending of the relationship the CEO keeps “creating” conflict over countless issues that are not the real issue. Great leaders face the deepest issues in their lives. They face them squarely, courageously and humbly.
Key Question: What about this situation am I not fully facing?
4. Commit to win for all solutions. Conscious leaders commit deep inside themselves to holding a space where win for all solutions can emerge. This commitment creates a totally different context for resolution that isn’t available as long as leaders look for win/lose (compete) or lose/lose (compromise) solutions. The key to holding a space for win for all solutions is that the transformational leader must not give in to the common beliefs around scarcity. It will appear to everyone involved in the conflict that “there is not enough” for everyone to have what they most want. This is the common consciousness. One of the questions that great leaders ask stakeholders is:
Key Question: How can our alliance create enough of what we all want so that we can all get what we most want?
5. Don’t take the conflict seriously. This one is radical. To the leader, in the midst of the conflict, it seems serious. Others are even telling you how serious it is. We mistakenly believe that taking it seriously makes us focus and brings forth our best thinking. Actually, taking it seriously activates our fear mechanisms and limits our capacity for creative, innovative thinking. In order for something to appear as serious it must pose a threat to our three basic wants: approval, control and security. Once we believe these are threatened (which we almost always to do in conflict) we go into the fear reactivity of fight, flight, freeze or faint. None of these are most helpful for real breakthroughs. Great leaders learn that from a distance nothing is serious.
Key Question: If I look back at this issue in 25 years will it really seem all that serious?
Conscious leadership is a radical new path to sustainable success. It requires a new approach to conflict. This new approach invites all parties involved in conflict to see that the conflict is here for their learning. If everyone involved gets curious about what they can learn from what is occurring real breakthroughs result and all finger pointing and blame end.