As a leader, there are many times I feel like the mediator between opposing viewpoints. I’m steering towards a common, shared vision, but there are a myriad of opinions in how we accomplish the vision.
I’m not afraid of conflict on a team. In fact, I think it can be healthy for the team if handled correctly. It keeps tension from building unnecessarily, simply because emotions and opinions are hidden rather than addressed. It brings new ideas to the table and welcomes input from everyone. When conflict is ignored or stifled, it makes people feel devalued and controlled.
When faced with conflict on my team, I realize the way I handle it will go a long way toward allowing the disagreement to work for the overall good. In fact, I must learn to better manage the conflicts rather than attempt to kill them.
Here are seven thoughts for managing conflict on a team:
Interfere sparingly. I try not to take sides in conflict any more than I have to, even when I have my own opinion. If the conflict isn’t a vision issue, and it seems to be resolving on its own, I’ve found it is best if I allow the process to take its course. When the leader gets involved in conflict, it takes on a new life, often unnecessarily.
Listen carefully. I try to hear both sides of the conflict. Normally there are valid points on both sides. It’s important that I hear not only what is said, but also what is unspoken. That takes asking questions, getting to know the members of my team, and not assuming I know what people are thinking simply by what they say. Understanding the basis of conflict and the opposing viewpoints is critical to understanding the conflict.
Communicate. During times of conflict, it’s even more important that communication be clear and consistent. Many times, conflict is simply due to a lack of clarity or miscommunication. Information often makes conflict easier to resolve. As a leader, part of my responsibility is making sure the team communicates effectively.
Discern the real issue. Conflict develops for a number of reasons; not all of them good. Beyond miscommunication, conflict also develops over power struggles, weak leadership or simply personality differences. Discerning the nature of the conflict, and if there is a root issue (often unspoken or undefined), helps me avoid trying to solve the perceived conflict, when the real issue is something completely different.
Monitor impact. As I said, conflict in and of itself is not bad, but part of my job is making sure conflict on a team doesn’t begin to harm rather than promote the health of the team and its members. When individuals begin to attack each other personally, act in anger, form sides within the team, or distract from progress, it’s time for the leader to interfere.
Vision. Ultimately, my job as a leader is to maintain the integrity of the vision. Conflict can enhance or interfere with attaining the vision. My job is to continually direct the team’s attention back to our purpose.
Don’t be afraid of conflict on a team. Good leaders learn to manage it for the overall good of the team.
Leader, how do you manage conflict on your team?
Ron Edmondson is a pastor at Immanuel Baptist Church in Lexington, Ky. He is also a church leadership consultant passionate about planting churches, helping established churches thrive, and assisting pastors and those in ministry think through leadership, strategy and life. Prior to ministry, Ron had more than 20 years of business experience, mostly as a self-employed business owner. Follow Ron on Facebook, Twitter, and his blog at ronedmondson.com.