Albert Einstein once said, “In the middle of difficulty lies opportunity.” When you’re knee-deep in a difficult situation, it may be hard to hold on to that perspective. Keep this in mind: Managing conflict effectively leads to positive change for you, your team, and your entire organization. The next time you’re faced with conflict, take a breath, and ask yourself these questions:
Where is this conflict coming from?
Conflict is typically either internal or external.
- Internal conflict is similar to a moral dilemma or a struggle in your own mind to make a certain decision or take a certain action. The conflict itself involves only you, but it can definitely affect other people. In fact, unresolved internal conflict can lead to external conflict if it’s not managed effectively.
- External conflict involves at least one other person. A disagreement or misunderstanding with another person or people are examples of an external conflict. As a leader, you may also face external conflict when you need to address a dispute between members of your team.
What are the positions and interests driving this conflict?
Managing conflict – and ultimately resolving it – often comes down to figuring out the positions and interests of everyone involved. A position is a decision people make about what they want. An interest is the “why” behind people wanting what they want. People may not be willing to change their positions, but you can often resolve disagreements by finding common ground within the underlying interests.
Does this require my immediate attention?
No matter what type of conflict you’re facing, it’s important that you evaluate the urgency of a resolution. There are times when the best approach to conflict between team members is giving people time and space to work things out. Sometimes, though, taking a wait-and-see approach to resolving conflict is dangerous, or even illegal. For example, if a team member comes to you with a situation related to workplace harassment, you have an ethical and legal responsibility to act immediately.
Do I need help?
If you feel like a conflict is too big to handle on your own, seek help. Simply talking to a trusted friend or colleague may help you resolve an internal conflict. A new perspective from an impartial third party can uncover hidden solutions to external conflict. For some conflicts in the workplace, it may be appropriate to bring in an HR representative, another member of the leadership team, or even an outside professional.
Managing conflict isn’t always easy, but it is almost always possible. Every difficult situation you encounter can lead to better decisions, creative changes, improved teamwork, and increased collaboration.
More Resources on Resolving Conflict in Difficult Situations
Tune in to the Culture of Convenience podcast! Recent episodes include how to handle internal conflict and the difference between being a “peacemaker” and a “peacekeeper” when dealing with external conflict.