Navigating Conflict and Hard Conversations

Navigating conflict

Conflict Navigation – How to have those Hard Conversations without being the Bad Guy

I want to dive into the nitty-gritty of leadership and teamwork – specifically, how to handle those inevitable clashes within your team. Yep, we’re talking about conflict management!

As a leader, handling conflict can make or break your team’s vibe and productivity. Unfortunately, for most leaders, they don’t love dealing with conflict and most aren’t really good at it. Why is this worth getting better at? 

  • Respected leaders keep their cool, avoid personal jabs, and focus on fixing the problem rather than playing the blame game.
  • They’re all about active listening, showing empathy, and asking the right questions to get where everyone’s coming from.
  • Oh, and they’re also pros at nipping conflicts in the bud before they blow up.

So, let’s get down to business and discuss three handy strategies for handling team conflicts, not as a boss but as a successful, empathic leader.

# 1 Practice Reflective Thinking:

First up, we’ve got reflective thinking. This one’s all about taking a moment to mull over the situation before jumping into the fray. Let me tell you a little story to illustrate.

Once upon a time, I was in the middle of a squabble between two team members. Instead of swooping in like a superhero, I took a breather. I sat down, mulled over what was happening, and made a game plan. When we finally talked it out, I kept an open mind, listened without interrupting, and checked my emotions. And guess what? It worked like a charm! By approaching things with clarity and objectivity, we smoothed things over quickly.

# 2 Delay your Response:

Next on the list: take a moment before you respond. When things heat up, it’s all about hitting pause and giving everyone a chance to cool off. But here’s the kicker—it’s not about sweeping the conflict under the rug. It’s about taking a time out for a hot second to let everyone catch their breath.

I remember this one time during a team pow-wow when things got intense between a few team members. Instead of diving headfirst into the fray, I called for a quick breather where everyone took a minute to chill out, gather their thoughts, and return to the table with a fresh perspective. And you know what? It turned the tide! Giving everyone a chance to regroup led to a more productive chat, and we hammered out a solution that left everyone smiling.

# 3 Commit to Adapting Behaviour:

Last but not least, let’s talk about being flexible. As leaders, we must stay nimble and open-minded when tackling conflicts. Take it from me—sometimes you’ve gotta shake things up to find a solution that sticks.

I remember this one conflict that just wouldn’t quit within my team. We tried everything under the sun to squash it, but tensions kept bubbling up. That’s when I realized it was time to switch things up. Instead of sticking to the same old playbook, I got creative. And you know what? It paid off big time! We finally cracked the code by embracing some flexibility and smoothed things over.


How To Have Difficult Conversations With Employees

Let’s now delve into the art of navigating those tricky conversations with your team members. As someone deeply entrenched in leadership development consulting, I’ve been privileged to guide numerous leaders through challenging situations. So, let’s roll up our sleeves and explore three key strategies for handling difficult conversations effectively.

 #1 Prevent Escalation:

This initial step in conflict resolution is crucial. It’s all about catching potential issues before they spiral out of control. Influential leaders understand the importance of remaining composed, steering clear of personal attacks, and focusing squarely on addressing the underlying issues rather than assigning blame or pointing fingers.

For instance, consider a scenario in which a seasoned manager, Rachel, noticed tensions between two team members. Recognizing the potential for escalation, Rachel swiftly intervened but did not let emotions take over. She scheduled a meeting with both parties and approached the situation calmly. Instead of assigning blame, she emphasized the importance of resolving the issue collaboratively, fostering an environment of open communication and mutual respect.

 #2 Active Listening and Empowering Employees:

Now, let’s explore the power of active listening and involving your team in finding solutions. It’s like the secret sauce or game changer for diffusing tense situations. Active listening involves being fully present and attentive, empathetically absorbing what the other person is saying without jumping to conclusions or interrupting. Talking only about the specifics and facts and asking clarifying questions are key components of active listening.

By involving your team in the solution-finding process, you promote accountability and foster a sense of ownership and empowerment among your employees.

Consider Mark, a director who was faced with a performance issue involving Lisa, one of his team members. Instead of rushing to judgment, Mark practiced active listening. He gave Lisa the floor to express her concerns fully and openly. By paying attention to the details, sticking to the facts, and asking probing questions, Mark gained valuable insights into the root of the problem. This laid the groundwork for a constructive dialogue to find a mutual resolution.

 #3 Leverage Reflective Leadership Theory:

Have you ever heard of the reflective leadership theory? It’s a leadership style that focuses on ongoing improvement and development. When applied to difficult conversations, it can provide insight into your emotions, biases, and triggers before engaging in difficult conversations.  

The three elements of this model are:

  1. Being Aware – Recognizing your responsibilities in a situation.
  2. Making Good Judgments – Taking into account external factors that cloud your judgment.
  3. Taking Action – Following through, armed with the information needed to reach the best outcome. 

For instance, let’s consider Maria, a reflective leader facing a setback on a critical project. Instead of jumping to conclusions or placing blame, Maria takes a step back to reflect on her role in the situation. She considers how her actions and decisions may have contributed to the problem and uses this insight to approach the conversation with humility and openness. By embracing reflective leadership principles, Maria fosters a culture of trust and collaboration, ultimately leading to positive outcomes within her team.

In Conclusion:

So, whether reflecting on the situation, taking a breather, or mixing things up, you’ve got the tools to lead your team through any storm, wrangling team conflicts like a pro.

With these strategies in your toolkit, you’ll tackle even the most challenging situations with confidence and grace. Remember to:

  • Stay composed, listen actively, and involve your team every step of the way.
  • Lean into the discomfort, and watch as you transform conflicts into opportunities for growth and collaboration within your team.
  • Balance the positive and the negative, observe without interpreting, and keep the conversation professional and focused.

When giving feedback to your team members, stay focused on the behaviour that needs improvement rather than judge their character. Keep the conversation respectful and focused on finding solutions that benefit everyone involved.

Following this approach will foster a culture of open communication and continuous improvement within your team. Remember, feedback is about helping each other grow, not tearing each other down. So, keep it professional and constructive, and watch your team thrive!

We can turn conflict into positive change by listening, empathizing, acknowledging, apologizing, reflecting, refraining, and responding. Remember, as leaders, we should not avoid conflict but embrace it and use it to propel our teams forward.

Ultimately, I believe conflicts can typically be resolved with a genuine willingness. Whether through turning the other cheek, seeking compromise, extending forgiveness, demonstrating compassion and empathy, finding common ground, engaging in active listening, prioritizing service, or employing various other strategies, success in building rapport is achievable when the underlying desire is strong enough.

In cases where differences cannot be reconciled, it is essential to resolve the issue based on integrity rather than playing favorites.

Patrick Lencioni discusses the ‘upside of conflict’ and why conflict is critical in teams, yet many companies avoid it at all costs.

Please connect if you’d like to discuss how we can help your leadership team achieve your most important strategic goals in 2024.

As your trusted leadership development consultant, NexLevel helps leaders remove barriers to achieve their most critical strategic goals.

 We focus on three essential outcomes required to achieve sustainable business success:

  • Healthy Workplace
  • Team Performance
  • Measured Success


You can Create a Healthier, more
Successful Organization.

And you don’t have to do it alone.