Against Caution: Three Ways to Lead Conflict this Week

Updated: Feb 18, 2019


Most of what passes for conflict management/resolution wisdom and education is far too cautious, avoidant, and frankly fails to address the root issues inherent in most conflicts.


This is because the human desire for interpersonal peace is so strong that most leaders will purposely or inadvertently suppress a conflict far too soon in its life cycle. The reasons for shutting down or “resolving” conflict too soon usually come from a good place.


Much of the existing practice in the world of conflict management/resolution caters to the desire for peace and conflict suppression. It’s the wrong approach.

We don’t want to see people in discomfort. We want things to be “ok” again. This is fine if you want an organizational culture that is only ok. But if you want a culture that is truly great, you’ll need to learn to lead conflict and make it work for the long-term health of the organization.


People and relationships are far more resilient and robust in their potential to absorb conflict and change than leaders usually give them credit for… Staff can handle it – really. It is usually the leadership, not staff, that keeps a lid on useful conflict that needs to come to the surface.


In my years of educating, coaching, and leading, there is more inherent downside for the things that go unsaid in an organization than for the risky things we choose to say out loud.

Organizations that encourage interpersonal risk-taking are not for everyone. That’s because most organizations, and leaders, are rather mediocre.


You didn’t come here to read this because you want to be mediocre. You want to be exceptional. Transformational leaders will do what is necessary to make sure that things that need to be said get said.

Model creative risk-taking with your team this week, by experimenting with the following:


  1. Trust that if you are thinking something, especially something that makes you uncomfortable, someone else is thinking it, too. Be the first to say it out loud.

  2. Talk to a colleague about a problematic and persistent behavior – that you’ve complained about to everyone but them (or just kept to yourself). This previous article might help. This one, too.

  3. Be more ok with things not being ok. Many (maybe most) interpersonal issues cannot be resolved in one conversation or meeting. Don’t insist on fake and superficial conclusions. Be willing to talk more the next day or on a regularly scheduled basis about issues or behaviors that might be deeply ingrained.


Practice the above, and you’ll be well on your way leading conflict like a champ.


Check out the Leading Conflict store for practical and hard-hitting resources that will help you put these ideas into action.


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