As you start reading this, I need to ask a favor. Yeah, it’s kind of brash, so let me say “Thanks” on the front end. I promise it’s not difficult. Here’s what I’d like to ask. Tune out whatever else you’re doing and think back to your first job. Not that one . . . I mean your first “real” job. You know the one, the one you spent countless hours rewording your resume for so your experiences from working entry level positions looked really impressive. Can you remember it? Sweet . . . now we’re on the same page. Think about what you hoped for, what you dreamed about and how long you thought it would take you to get there.
For me, I was fresh out of college, had recently moved to the “big” city and was ready to start my career. My expectations were to quickly climb the ladder of success and eventually retire with an impressive title. Little did I know, this was only a step toward career two, which was a step to career three . . . a career/calling in the world of start-up church. Isn’t it crazy how God works?! But I digress. Back to my first real job. I remember walking around on cloud nine ready to take on whatever came my way. I had my official name badge—the fancy metal kind, not a plastic one on a recoiling string—and I had an iPhone 6 and MacBook Pro with retina display. Hold on . . . it was 1994 and those weren’t even invented yet. In reality, I had a top of the line, über cool multi-line desk phone and a clunky desktop computer. In this job and career, I was working with orthopedic surgeons and several other healthcare professionals who I learned from, looked up to and honestly kind of idolized. Then one day, my myopic and naive view of the work place changed. If you’ve been in the workplace very long, you probably have a similar day, or maybe more than one. It was on this memorable day when I first experienced true conflict in the workplace. Conflict, by definition, is tough enough. Add in the fact I saw those around me as mentors and had them on a pedestal and it’s even worse. I’ll spare you the details—and save myself a few visits to a counselor—and jump to how I’m continuing to learn from my initial experience as I lead a team of leaders and volunteers.
As I share what I’m still learning about conflict resolution, know there are more resources than we can count that will list the top 8, 10 or 15+ ways to resolve conflict. Because of my respect for your intelligence and your ability to google “how to resolve conflict,” I’m not going to list them. What I want to pass along is what I’ve been discovering over the past 12-18 months as I continue to learn how to be a more effective leader. I’ve talked through these ideas, thoughts and practical steps with my leadership coach, Fran LaMattina, and utilize them with my current team. I hope these are helpful to you as you lead yourself and others.
Conflict is normal.
Research has repeatedly proven that conflict is a normal part of an organization. We all know this, but in a crazy way, we’re still surprised when it pops up on our team. Give yourself permission to acknowledge that conflict is normal and will happen among your team.
Dealing with conflict isn’t normal.
News flash: I’ve never met or heard of anyone who gets out of bed every day looking for conflict. Pause for a second and ask yourself this question: “Do I like dealing with conflict on a regular basis?” I know you’ll deal with it when you have to, but do you really enjoy it? No! Give yourself permission to admit that you really hate dealing with conflict.
Dealing with conflict must be learned.
Since dealing with conflict isn’t normal, we all have to learn how to do it. In most cases when a leader mishandles conflict, it’s due to a lack of skills rather than poor personality traits. Conflict resolution is a learned behavior that everyone can develop. Look for opportunities to develop and strengthen your conflict resolution skills.
Conflict avoidance—it’s not for me!
Research indicates there are a instances where avoiding conflict really will work—and they’re smarter than me so I believe them—but most people aren’t able to tell when it’s the best practice and use it when they shouldn’t. So for me, avoidance is not an option, and I hope you adopt a leadership style that defaults to addressing conflict rather than hoping it magically disappears.
Create a culture of fun.
Everyone enjoys working for a leader and organization who not only sees the value of fun, but they also prioritize it. This means prioritizing time during the work day and funds from the operating budget to make sure your team is having fun together. Roughly six times a year, our team spends our weekly team meeting off-site with the sole purpose of having fun as a group. The benefits are too many to list. Give yourself permission to make work fun!
As I mentioned earlier, I’m still learning, and by no means am I an expert in the field of conflict resolution. However, my hope is that this information gives you the freedom to acknowledge that conflict is real and we aren’t naturally equipped to deal with it. Your challenge is to build on this information and find the best resources available so you can be a more effective leader.