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Gina-McClainIn my past few blogs, I’ve talked about conflict—why people avoid it and why it’s better to lean into it.

One thing I’ve learned about working with teams of people: When two or more are gathered, there will be conflict!

Why? Because we all have our opinions about how things should be, and we’re rather attached to our opinions. Conflict is a reality of leadership. I’ve been all over the map on how to lead through conflict, from completely avoiding it to plowing through it and leaving a body count behind. Let me tell you, neither approach works out well.

Today I share with you the four steps to success that I’ve discovered help me lead through conflict. But before diving into them, we must make some clarifications—some Rules of Engagement:

  1. In person is better than text. Please, please, please! Trying to lead through conflict resolution via email is not the answer. Text does not communicate body language, facial expression or voice intonation. If I’m offended, text gives me too much room for interpretation. Text is not the avenue for conflict resolution. Whenever possible, get face to face.
  1. If the conflict is between more than one party or if it’s between two parties and you’re their leader, avoid individual meetings. Avoid having one-on-one meetings with each party to work through the conflict. Too much room for "he said, she said." In that case, you end up playing the mediator role. You don’t want to mediate the conflict. You want to facilitate a conversation. Pull all parties involved into the same room and work it out together.

There you go. These are the preliminary requirements for the four steps to success. Let’s move on.

Once you’ve adhered to the rules of engagement and you have your people together …

4 Steps to Conflict Resolution

1. Acknowledge what you see. It’s hard to argue someone’s perception. Even if their facts are wrong, their perception is their reality. So present your perception.

2. Listen. Aka, Shut your pie hole! I’m a talker. I tend to fill dead space with my talking. When I feel I need to explain more or describe more or justify more, I’ll just keep talking. The trick to this step is to not talk. Let the silence fill the space. Make it a game of “chicken” if you have to. If you’re off base, they’ll combat it immediately and let you know. If you’re on target, the silence will be deafening. And you are creating an opportunity for them to work it out in that moment (cha-ching).

3. Define what you want to see. This part is important. You are their leader. You’ve got to define your expectation. The conflict you see is not what you want to see. So tell them what you want to happen rather than what is happening. Let them know that now is the time to talk through how you can reach that goal. Now is the opportunity to come to agreement. Once you walk away from this meeting, the problem should be put to rest.

4. Wrap back around and bring accountability. This is where the money is. As leaders, we can address a problem we see, but if we never come back around to inspect it again, then we miss an opportunity to re-emphasize its importance. Wrapping back around is the act of intentionally revisiting to make sure things are truly better, to ensure progress is made, that the conflict is truly resolved.

You may not sense the tension any longer, but the real test is in the people involved and their perception of how things have improved. Be sure to come back around after an appropriate amount of time and ask, “Is it better? How?” 

There you go—my four-step method for leading through conflict. What step would you add to this process? Read parts 1, 2 and 3 of this series.

Gina McClain is a speaker, writer and children’s ministry director at Faith Promise Church in Knoxville, Tenn. For the original article, visit

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