What’s your mindset on conflict?
And how well does it serve you?
Some people see conflict as entirely normal and necessary. part of the creative process that leads to new ideas and optimal outcomes. Others see conflict as destructive, unpleasant, and something to be avoided to maintain a harmonious working environment.
The answer, like most things in life, is a balance. Too much conflict in your organisation and it can become toxic, causing your talent to become exhausted, disengaged, and ultimately leave. Too little, and your team won’t be challenged to strive for excellence; they’ll become complacent and set in their ways.
The Problem for Leaders
The problem for leaders is that we all come with our own unique mindset that triggers what we think and how we feel about conflict. These subconscious thoughts and emotions are embedded in our neural pathways, which determine how we naturally react and behave in conflictual situations. There’s also a cultural element in play with the social norms of certain nations being naturally more or less accepting of conflictual behaviour.
If you naturally avoid conflict because you see it as negative or threatening, then your instinctive behaviour may be getting in your way and impairing your effectiveness. As a business or team leader, you need a certain amount of conflict to generate a high-performing environment where people are free to challenge, offer new ideas and debate in search of the optimal solution. If you automatically start to feel uncomfortable at the first sign of disagreement or challenge, it’s likely that you’ll become defensive and seek to re-establish harmony, inadvertently quashing the creative energy in the room and thus succumbing to Temptation 4 in Patrick Lencioni’s book, “The Five Temptations of a CEO” – Temptation 4: choosing Harmony over Conflict.
Reframing Mindsets and Limiting Beliefs
The good news is that you can change the mindset that triggers your negative thoughts and avoidant behaviour. You can reframe your thoughts about conflict and train yourself to behave differently, but it’s not easy as you have these neural pathways that were established in childhood, which have become hard-wired by years of repetitive thoughts and behaviour.
I recently had a coaching client who recognised that he naturally shied away from conflict and that this behaviour was interfering with his goal of becoming a highly effective leader. He had recently been appointed in a senior role in a fast-paced marketing agency with the mandate to disrupt legacy thinking and create a competitive advantage by introducing new cutting-edge thinking and processes. We worked through the process of reframing his mindset, replacing the old negative connotations that he associated with conflict with new positive and constructive thoughts focused on what can be achieved through challenge and constructive debate. Once he was able to adjust his default thinking, he found that the uncomfortable emotions that were previously triggered by his negative thoughts had disappeared, and he now felt motivated and empowered to bring all ideas, expertise and energy to his work.
The Benefits of Becoming Comfortable with Conflict
The change was dramatic; two weeks later he reported that he felt and was behaving differently. He was pleased to notice that this new approach enabled him to create more impact and have greater influence over the project he was leading, and he felt comfortable creating and stepping into conflict with his colleagues in a challenging and productive way.
If you’d like some help reframing your limiting mindsets and strengthening your leadership behaviours, please contact me via LinkedIn or email me; at firstname.lastname@example.org
 Patrick Lencioni, “The Five Temptations of a CEO”, published by Josey-Bass, January 1, 1998