There are a few things that we encounter regardless of our professional level.  Conflicts are among those things. And, contrary to what you might think, they are not always bad. 

It’s often a simple misunderstanding where early and quick action and remedy the situation.

In other cases, it’s due to a divergence of opinion and perspective. These are blessings in disguise.  Again, if handled properly, this can be an insight into a new way of thinking.

Let’s take a closer look at conflict, and I’ll give you some tools to help you reach optimal outcomes, and in the process, develop your leadership skills. 


Anatomy of a conflict

Conflict often begins with a gap. 

It can be a gap of understanding or expectation or anything else in between.

In can be something constructive if handled maturely, though those skills are rapidly disappearing. But it doesn’t have to be! 

In many of the conflicts that come to our mind, we think of someone’s action triggering a negative reaction in someone else

It can also be a disagreement on how to proceed ahead with a project or task

We try to rectify the situation, thinking that, of course, we are right, and we just need to let the other person see the error in their ways.  

The method we employ to attempt to achieve our goal often has the opposite effect of its intended aim

Then begins an endless back and worth.   Over time resentment builds, and deeper negative emotions get entrenched. It becomes increasingly difficult to resolve the situation.

In extreme cases, the only solution is to walk away.


What’s really going on?

We are subjective, emotional beings – even those among us that see ourselves as being uber rational. We can think rationally, but we decide with our emotions. 

As we go through life, we see the environment and events through our lens, and our perception is based on mood at the time, context, culture, and many other factors.

There can be a simple event: Mark arrives at the coffee shop at 3:17 PM. This is a neutral event.

Jar, who is meeting Mark, was expecting to meet him at 3 PM, which is the time they agreed up.  As a german person, being late is a sign of disrespect. So when Mark shows up at 3:17, he doesn’t just observe the facts, but he colors them with his own perception:  Mark has little respect for me and my time. 

If we could take one of those high-speed cameras to break down what happens, just like those slow-motion videos of nuclear explosions, this is what we would observe.

There is an event or external stimuli – Mark is “late”.

This triggers an emotion, feelings based on Jar’s specific programming. 

The feeling leads to thoughts. He starts to become angry at Mark. “This Mark, who does he think he is?”

The thoughts lead to action.  When mark shows up, he might snap at him or be very cold.  If they have a relationship, he might change his behavior later as well. 

If Jar is Mark’s boss and the yearly review is coming up, he might add some really unflattering remarks. 

What happened here is that Jar had an automatic reaction. This was based on his culture, his upbringing, experience, which shaped his cultural identity.  In his personal context, the observed behavior had a certain meaning, and he reacted without thought at it. 

In your everyday life, this can be happening in a more subtle with smaller triggers.  The resentment can grow under the radar of your consciousness until you are quite annoyed.

What can we do about it?


A simple solution

(that works most of the time :-))

The first step is to block the chain reaction. 

To slow down time, just like in the movie The Matrix, and make a conscious decision. 

In a way, to validate our reaction. 

Did this person really mean to be a jerk? Do they deserve my wrath? 

What we find out is that even if the person is a jerk, our automatic reaction is still not optimal. There is usually a better, more mature, and productive option we can choose.

The key is to have enough self-awareness so that as soon as something starts to bother us a little bit, or even better, even it gets into the “bothering” territory when we notice there is something unexpected.

At that time, to stop and hold judgment and ask ourselves: Why is this happening?”

Approach from a place of curiosity. Judgment can sometimes masquerade itself as curiosity.

Why is this happening is not the same as? Why is this person so stupid. See the difference?

Along holding judgment, assume MRI. MRI stands for Most Respectful intent.

Until proven otherwise, assume the person has only positive, respectful intent. And assume the reason you are triggered because there is some misunderstanding somewhere.

What you are doing here is moving the problem from people to the situation, which is a wise approach for any leader. 

Once you are doing this, your mind should be prime for and open. When we are in a good mood, our brain processes 10x better. Now you can figure out what’s going on.

The goal here is not to be right but to understand. 

Try to put yourself in different angles. What if you were that person’s shoes. Would you look at things differently?

Try to observe to see if there are clues. Maybe their factors that influence the situation.

Ask trusted colleagues, mentors for advice. Or your coach if you have one. A good coach is your thinking partner and guide.

With this approach, you may not immediately understand what’s going on, but you will be on your way to do so. It may take some time and a few conversations with trusted colleagues until you get to the bottom of it. But ultimately, you will have learned.

Even if the person was a jerk, having been able to think things through, you’d choose the wisest decision. Emotional outbursts can reflect on your worse than on the source.  

In the end, it’s simple a diverge opinion, then you can consider the other side and have a conversation. Remember what Aristotle said?

It is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it. 

People in today’s political sphere would be good to remember.

If they don’t, you can still do and be a better leader and, ultimately a better human being.


Daily Practice

A lot of the learning that we can benefit from happens when we have a chance to reflect on the events. It’s with time that our main connects the dots.

Mindful meditation is a great way to create that space to reflect but also develop self-awareness to stop us from poor automatic reactions. 

Journaling days that are especially charged and busy is an excellent way to save for later our thoughts and feeling and be able to revisit them later once we had a chance to cool down and gain some perspective. 

It’s also a great idea to have a small group of trusted advisors; these are smart, honest people with whom you share values and perhaps event life vision. 

In this group, you have some diversity and trust. This way, they can provide different perspectives, and thanks to the trust that you have, they will speak their mind.  It’s important to trust to be able to speak honestly and constructively even while knowing that the opinion share may not be popular. 

If you are looking to develop your leadership skills, you can join our Facebook group, where you’ll find like-minded people who’ll be happy to discuss and provide feedback on situations. 


Where do we go from here?

Conflicts will always happen – some come from disagreements and misunderstandings, which, if managed correctly, can be resolved quickly and easily. Others come from differing views and opinions. These are great opportunities to learn about another point of view and possibly learn something new.

Again, you don’t need to accept a point of view to consider it.  You may see value in it even if ultimately, you disagree with it.  Having the maturity and self-leadership to do this will help you better understand others, where they are coming from, build strong bonds, and build productive relationships. 

As you may have heard about the example of the cumulative impact of a daily 1% improvement, it’s the same when it comes to developing your leadership skills. 

Implement the daily practices suggested, even if just a little. As you can get better, things will become easier and more enjoyable. 

What are your tips for handling conflict please share in the comments?