the shape of leadership

Resolve Conflict Without Losing Your Cool

Prioritizing relationships above disagreements

Kent Ingle on January 14, 2019

Conflict is not a zero-sum game. There doesn’t have to be a winner and a loser. And someone doesn’t have to come out on top at the expense of another.

Everyone leads differently. While I don’t shy away from conflict, I choose not to engage in conflict that is not constructive. I’ve learned over the years that unless both parties are using conflict to arrive at a common end that benefits everyone involved, it will frustrate both parties and lead to unintended disruptions and distractions. Sometimes the most powerful and profitable thing you can do is just walk away.

So, how can you engage in conflict and still keep your Christian testimony intact? Let me suggest these five principles:

1. Respect the other person. Separate the idea from the person. Never let it get personal. Keep the conflict centered on the ideas you’re discussing.

2. Realize you both may be right. The hardest choices are never between right or wrong but better and best. What’s vital is keeping the focus on the desired outcome.

3. Recognize the value of diverse thinking. Celebrate the fact that more than one perspective exists. The world would be a boring place if that were not the case.

4. Reorient your energy around finding a solution. Conflict is only good if it leads to something meaningful and material. Conflict isn’t an end; it’s a means to an end.

Sometimes the most powerful and profitable thing you can do is just walk away.

5. Resist the urge to let emotions get the best of you. The second you introduce emotions into the equation, you are in dangerous territory. You will likely say or do things you’ll later regret. Keep the focus on the conversation, and look for points of agreement that will lead to an agreeable conclusion.

These principles aren’t just for work and ministry relationships. They can apply in marriage, parenting and friendships. You don’t stop being human just because you aren’t working. Conflict is rooted in our individuality, which is something we should celebrate.

Resolving Problems

There are worse things than losing an argument. When you cross a line and say things you shouldn’t, it can damage relationships — and your credibility as a leader. If that’s where you are, take these steps immediately:

Own it. Nothing leads to resolution faster than taking ownership of your responsibility in the situation. Get past your feelings, and realize your relationships are way more important than any single point of conflict.

Say you’re sorry. It’s OK to admit you made a mistake, said something you didn’t mean to say, or even acted in a way that was out of line. Everyone has done it from time to time. It’s what you do next that says it all.

Compliment the other person. It’s really hard to stay mad at someone you are complimenting. Find something about that person you admire or respect, and articulate it. This will change the momentum of the experience entirely.

Just because you lose your cool once doesn’t mean you’ve blown it forever. You can recover. The only time you can’t is when you choose not to practice the humility it takes to lead through conflict.

It’s easy to lead when everything is going well and everyone agrees. When challenges and disagreements arise, a leader who demonstrates Christlike character will shine.

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