How to be comfortable with conflict

employee conflictIf you are going to be a good role model and lead by example, you will have to get comfortable with confronting conflict.

The problem is that as much as leaders express their discomfort with conflict, they are even more averse to confronting it. For this reason, it’s a good idea to understand that there is a difference between confronting a conflict and being directly engaged in it.

The word “conflict” can conjure up a host of definitions and interpretations.

As with anything in life, your understanding of this word results from your experiences of being confronted and confronting others.

When most people think about confronting another person, they typically think about a face-to-face argument or a fight of some kind.

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This means that aggression is involved and there will be a loser and a winner.

Fear enters the picture

A win-or-lose attitude naturally evokes all the fears that you may have about conflict and how successfully you face it. This perspective to confrontation might emphasize the importance of winning or compel you to consider avoiding conflict altogether.

I strongly suggest that you broaden your definition of the word “confront,” recognizing its more positive and constructive meaning. By doing so, you become more conscious of your choices and much more effective.

Let’s start with the full definition of the word. At its root, the word “confront” means to face something. The act of confronting is facing and dealing with a problem or difficult situation.

To become more familiar with the constructive and positive aspect of this word, here are some synonymous meanings:

  • To address.
  • To come to grips with.
  • To tackle.
  • To see to.
  • To grapple with.
  • To handle.
  • To attend to.
  • To manage.

The missing word

To this list, I suggest you add “to lead.”

The definition I like to use when coaching leaders and in my workshops is “to face the truth.” Rather than thinking of conflict as a form of separation and a means to hostility and combativeness, I suggest you think of it as an invitation to the party you are in conflict with, asking them to participate in exploring the real issues and challenges that need to be discussed.

To succeed in encouraging others to play differently demands a significant shift in your thinking. Based on your experiences and learning, you might assume that others are apt to be aggressive during conflict and, therefore, you must counter forcefully. Consciously changing your thinking means using confrontation as a path to a more collaborative dialogue.

When thinking about the more constructive and positive view of confrontation, you will also find it useful to identify and come to terms with the various forms of avoidance you may be using. Avoidance is a tempting proposition.

Yet if your aim is to lead an innovative and open culture, there is no room for it.



A globally recognized, award-winning speaker and author, Edgar Papke is author of the new book The Elephant in the Boardroom.