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What is the best way to avoid or manage conflict? I hate conflict as much as the next person, but there is an interesting paradox here. If you get interested in the conflict or issue, then a lot of the fire or fury can quickly be taken down a notch. People tend to press their issue until they can get it heard. So, if you can get yourself interested in finding, being available for, and listening to issues, then it is likely you will have less conflict to deal with, and the issues you do have will get resolved quickly.

If the angry person feels like they are being listened to, they soon find they don’t have as much to say. It is disarming for people when they are met with an opportunity to be heard. This does require that we as leaders must muster the courage to be interested and to listen. We all know what Ted Lasso would say! “Be curious. Not judgmental.” Easier said than done. Like most leaders and business owners, I just want the problem to go away. But similar to a Chinese finger trap, you must get into it, to get out of it. 

One of the many valuable things I learned from my business coach, John Barron, is that my job as a CEO is to be up in the crow’s nest. Up in the nest, I’m looking out ahead to see if there is any smoke, so any fire can be put out quickly. I’m looking for roadblocks and icebergs. I’m also readily available to my managers for the topic of issues! I’m a big open welcoming space when it comes to issues. Why? Because that’s my job! I’m the Issue Monster (think Cookie Monster, my GenX friends).

When all is going according to plan, my managers can run this company well. They need their CEO when issues arise. So, I cannot be frustrated or annoyed with them when they bring me issues or conflicts.

A warning: If you do not nail an issue shut, it will return. Somewhere, somehow, someway, it will return. And you will know in your heart of hearts, “Ya, we didn’t fully resolve that issue. We just made it go away.” If you do the real work to resolve the actual issue, it will be nailed shut and you can move on. Don’t forget to take your Lessons Learned with you!

  • Conflict comes with anything worthwhile (no matter how right you think you are, there will always be people who disagree, and some who will even bark about it. Remember high school? Life is still like that sometimes.)
  • If you want no conflict, surround yourself with staff, clients, friends, and family who 100% agree with you all the time (now there’s a boring life with no richness).
  • Sometimes the only way out is through (and it is often the fastest).
  • What you resist persists (if you want the problem to linger, keep avoiding actively resolving it, but continue to talk about it a lot.)
  • As a leader, if you are proactively looking for potential issues, guess what? You will find them. (but the good news is, you found them before they found you!)
  • The longer a client or a staff member goes without hearing from you about an issue, the more they believe what they think to be true about you or the situation. (Their view quickly becomes the “truth” for them.)
  • Resolution is better than the right or perfect outcome (you may not like what you have to do to resolve the issue, but you will get the reward of the issue being resolved. Said another way, “better done than perfect.”)

Gina Cotner, CEO, Athena Executive Services


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