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Managing Conflict: A Leader's Guide

Even in the most close-knit teams, conflict happens. And in an ongoing pandemic, at a time when lots of people may be moving to new jobs and positions? New people joining a team that's been stressed? It can be hard to just get through the day - let alone know what to do when a dispute pops up! 

Leaders - whether you're formally a supervisor, division head, executive, or just someone people look to for guidance - set the tone of the group. Some of us do it well and easily! And even those of us who make it look SO easy can still fall flat on our faces when faced with a conflict. 

That's part of why I became a mediator: I wanted to learn how to handle conflict (and help others). Yes, I've learned some tips I use personally - though you should NEVER mediate something important to you, because you can't be impartial. 

So let's dive into some tips for leaders needing to handle a conflict on their team: 

  • Stay calm.
    • Sure, easier said than done in many cases - so just be real and tell people, "can we talk about this another time?" Choose a time that works for YOU.
    • Another tip when you find yourself getting un-calm: Take a few deep breaths. Or, quietly and not obviously, distract yourself in the moment - maybe a fidget device or tapping your fingers on your le - anything small to ground you. 
  • Get curious about what's going on.
    • As a leader in this group, take a mental step back and consider what might be really going on here.
      • What's the nature of the disagreement?
      • Is the dispute itself about team values or productivity? (keep in mind those can be affected even when the nature of the dispute seems to be unrelated)
    • Ask nonjudgmental questions. 
    • Modeling an attitude of curiosity can also help others to see things differently, and may open up some minds - as usually a conflict means two (or more) parties are mentally stuck in whatever they think is best. 
  • Think about different ways to try to measure agreement in the group. Here are some ideas:
    • Ask each party individually what it would take to get them to see the other person's perspective or agree with their position.
    • Consider using different tools - maybe getting visual with a whiteboard (online or in-person).

Join me to walk through some real-life grounding techniques and learn a list of go-to conflict questions for my next public workshop - A Manager's Guide to Managing Conflict, on Thursday, Feb. 10, 12-1pm EST. See details & registration.

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