I know I do not like conflict. I have been told that directly. I know some people have even called me passive (behind my back). I am not alone. Some of us are accused of liking people too much and/or wanting to be liked too much. I know my problem is that I have hyper-active tear ducts, can be emotional, and try to avoid frustrations and challenges that might result in tears streaming down my face. What lies below the surface for you may be different, but what observable behaviors are we talking about?

At a recent senior leader team work session I facilitated, we discussed the importance of conflict management. One team member, Stan, in this group of very direct, Alpha-males and females, said he was conflict avoidant. The somewhat surprising response from several peers was “but you handle conflict so well”. Stan went on to describe how much effort he put into clarifying expectations and accurately describing the current situation. He added how carefully he listened to others and how actively he probed for understanding different perspectives and options. He continued framing how he focused on being clear and direct in articulating realistic choices, clarifying roles, and outlining accountability. What became clear was that Stan’s response to apparent conflict was driven by a need to improve a situation, not by a need to prove a position or point of view. He did not seek conflict for the sake of head-butting and personal affirmation. He managed it to get the best solution.

Conflict avoidant? If you are running from conflict at all costs, odds are you will not be successful influencing top-tier sustainable performance. Conflict management? If you recognize and even encourage uncovering differences in perspectives; if you intentionally work to manage the complexities that accompany this diversity; if you keep focus on the need to improve, rather than prove; odds are you too will be seen by allies and adversaries alike as “handling conflict well”.

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