Smart leaders manage conflict well by reframing it as a misalignment and using their boss as a mentor and guide, among other tactics, writes Marlene Chism. “Although no leader enjoys conflict, competent leaders understand that conflict is not the problem: Mismanagement is,” she writes.
No matter the technical or academic skills a leader possesses, there is an often-overlooked skill that’s essential: Conflict capacity.Conflict capacity is the ability to tolerate conflict without getting triggered into unconscious reactions.
A leader with low conflict capacity lacks the self-awareness to know when they have hit their emotional and mental limits, and as a result mismanage conflict and make poor decisions. Many leaders I’ve worked with didn’t recognize the first signs of conflict and didn’t know when they were in too deep. As a result, they made significant mistakes that, while unintentional, caused a lot of lost time, lost productivity and legal expenses for the organization.
Just like expanding your physical health through aerobic capacity, strength or stamina, building conflict capacity requires conditioning, discipline and deliberate practice. You need to be able to withstand the storm instead of resorting to the coping mechanisms of avoiding, appeasing or aggression.
Here are four ways to start building more conflict capacity.
1. Reframe conflict
The first way we mismanage conflict is by the way we define conflict. Various dictionary definitions include a state of open fighting; a state of disagreement or disharmony between persons or ideas; a mental struggle; and a battle or war. No wonder most of us have such an aversion to conflict.