Last week I had the privileged of taking my team through a classroom session on Conflict Resolution. The session included defining conflict and the feelings associated with it, understanding the different ways people handle conflict, placing yourself in groups with others who handle conflict in a similar way, listing your strengths and weaknesses in conflict resolution and some very fun role play regarding stereotypes in conflict.
I was amazed at how well my team of 18 to 21 year-olds handled the topic. Because they were so willing to be honest and to share with each other we were able to pull back some layers and better understand how to resolve conflict.
At the end of the session I asked them to share their general observations and insights. They made some wonderful points but then one of our freshmen casually said, “we aren’t defined by who we are in conflict” and I was amazed. If an 18 year-old can understand this then I think we can expect other adults to grasp the concept as well.
The reality is growth can be a painful process and if we, as leaders, want to lead people then we will have to lead them through some difficult moments. Conflict is not all about pain, it also about opportunity and it is critical as leaders that we set the tone in dealing with conflict. If we see difficult conversations as negative and something to fear then the people whom we influence will do that as well. We need to go into those difficult moments grateful for the opportunity to grow.
We must also lead the way in communicating the idea that who we are in conflict doesn’t define us. Because we don’t live our lives in a constant state of conflict we are often not at our best when we are in conflict, we are outside of our comfort zone. Our styles might be different but as long as make an effort to understand the style of the person we are trying to work with we will be able to communicate effectively and find a resolution. As leaders we have tremendous influence in how those around us will feel about handling conflict.
Ultimately we aren’t defined by who we are in conflict but the decision to not work through conflict will define us.