Bywater Consulting Group, LLC
Liz Bywater, PhD

September 2012

Mastering Conflict: Top Strategies for Outstanding Leaders

Conflict. It's all around us. At work. At home. On the roads we travel between the two. Conflict is a natural part of the human experience... and yet it presents one of our greatest sources of stress on a day-to-day basis.

When inadequately addressed within your organization, conflict can create substantial barriers to performance. Productivity plummets, as valuable time is squandered ruminating over (and reacting to) perceived slights and injustices. Meetings and discussions become ineffectual. Relationships deteriorate. Decisions are delayed and projects get sidelined, as key stakeholders fail to come to agreement on how to proceed.

On a personal level, employees may respond to the growing stress with symptoms of anxiety, depression, and/or physical distress (headaches, digestive problems, sleep disturbances, etc). Eventually, as people become increasingly disgruntled and disengaged, they will begin to look for greener pastures elsewhere. The organization then faces talent gaps and the loss of vital knowledge and experience.

As a leader, it's your job to model appropriate conflict mastery for your team. In that vein, here are ten tips to help you become more personally effective in dealing with conflict.

Face the problem. Ignoring or avoiding it won't help; in fact, it will probably just allow things to fester.

Inquire. Instead of starting with accusations and assumptions, ask the other party whether he is even aware of the conflict. Calmly and respectfully ask for his perspective and candor.

LISTEN! Resist the temptation to jump in, disagree, defend your position, etc. Instead, be fully attentive (i.e., quiet and focused!) while the other person is speaking. Paraphrase, reflect and clarify what you've heard.

Remain calm. (No matter how riled up you may feel!) If you need time to gather yourself, simply postpone the conversation until you're less angry or overwhelmed.

State your position. Clearly, honestly, respectfully and thoughtfully.

Identify causes. Rather than assigning blame, look for the underlying reasons why the conflict has occurred. That will help guide you toward feasible solutions.

Consider the setting. Remember, conflict is an emotionally charged dynamic. Be deliberate in where and how you address it. Avoid public settings (in meetings, in the hallway, in the cafeteria, via group email). Instead, try to coordinate a private, face-to-face discussion. (Phone is second best. Email/text are really poor formats for addressing conflict.)

Lighten things up. A little humor can do wonders to defuse emotionality and defensiveness. Just be sure to make it genuine.

Find areas of agreement. Try to find the win-win where possible. Remember, a little compromise can go a very long way.

Be proactive. Brainstorm with the other person about how to anticipate future conflict. If you can see it coming, you can more quickly defuse it... before it becomes destructive.

In the next Bywater Journal, we will look at the productive side of conflict. You can also learn more by signing up for our upcoming fall webinar, sponsored by ExecSense (www.execsense.com). The webinar date will be announced shortly. We will keep you posted!

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About Liz Bywater

Dr. Liz Bywater has dedicated the past 20 years to helping her clients achieve substantive and lasting improvements in individual, team, and organizational effectiveness. Internationally recognized as an expert in world-class leadership and workplace performance, she brings a sophisticated yet down-to-earth approach to her work. Her clients find her to be an outstanding listener, an astute observer, a highly trusted partner and guide.

Liz works with leaders across a variety of functions and an array of industries, including pharmaceuticals and biotech, medical devices, consumer products, health care, finance, legal services, information technology and more. Her clients consistently report dramatic improvements in their ability to lead their organizations, communicate with impact, influence key stakeholders, partner for maximum success, drive for results, engage and develop high performing teams and maximize credibility.

Dr. Bywater consults, writes and speaks on a variety of workplace topics, with particular expertise in outstanding leadership and team effectiveness. She has been interviewed for radio and has provided expert commentary for such publications as the Wall Street Journal, the New York Times and USA Today. She earned her Ph.D. in Psychology at the Derner Institute for Advanced Psychological Studies and her undergraduate degree at Cornell University, where she graduated Phi Beta Kappa and Cum Laude, with Distinction in All Subjects.

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