It’s easy to lead when the going is good


But what about when conflict rears its ugly head and you’re in the hot seat? That’s when leaders rely on their skills and principles to get them through. If you want to improve how you handle discord, you might want to apply the Principles for Leading through Conflict. We use these in our leadership course for presidents-elect, Laying the Groundwork for Success. These principles help anyone manage issues and make difficult decisions while maintaining key relationships.

  1. Recognize you have two concerns: people and issues

Separate the people aspects from the issue. Often when people disagree, things can become personal. People get angry at one another because they see things in different ways. As a leader, you need to manage your own emotions and be clear to others that the goal is to achieve a wise outcome amicably. You need to care about people and the issue.

  1. Be sensitive to people – and hard-headed on issues

Once you have separated the people and the issue, you can deal with people as human beings and deal with the problem on its merits. This double-track approach means you strike two different tones. You can understand empathetically the power of each person’s views and the way they feel, and then convey this to them. And you can establish a tone of seriousness about the issue. As leaders, when we respect the issue and express our interest in a wise solution, we help people re-direct their energies to working together.

  1. Focus first on interests, not solutions

Interests are the motivations and concerns that underlie stated desires. It pays to look behind positions for the interests – the basic concerns. Ask about these directly. Encourage people to stay future-focused as they voice their interests and goals. Looking forward is best; visiting the past is less productive. As well, make sure that you express your own interests or goals.

  1. Generate options

Before any decision is made, explore alternatives. Produce as many ideas as possible to solve the problem at hand and meet everyone’s interests. Joint brainstorming in an informal atmosphere can ensure the interests of those involved are taken into account and everyone learns from each other. The goal is to invent options or arrangements to resolve things.

  1. Develop standards for measuring decisions

Develop objective criteria against which any decision will be measured. With any decision or alternative, there are considerations that will determine whether an idea or alternative is a fair and good one. Someone else may suggest a different standard than we would, so consider each on their merits. The idea is to work with the other person or with the group to develop a checklist that any alternative can be measured against.

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