Recently, my physical therapist asked me what I do and after I described my work with executives and teams, he asked, “how do you avoid conflict?” It struck me how the knee-jerk reaction from most people has to do with avoiding conflict. There lies the great paradox of seeing conflict not as something to avoid but as an opportunity to deepen a relationship.
What typical characteristics come to mind when you think about leaders in the workplace? Confidence, aggressiveness, the ability to set high expectations, and to build a team, is among the critical characteristics of successful leaders. Often it’s these same characteristics that set the stage for conflict to take place in a work setting. There’s a fine line that can define effectiveness. The way these behaviors are perceived by others is what ultimately distinguishes an effective leader from a corporate bully. Awareness of the impact one’s behavior has on others is the key to success in the corporate world.
Two strategies underscore a coaching initiative. First, no one changes without new awareness. Being aware of ourselves and our ability to read and respond adeptly, to meet challenges that come our way, requires a keen self-awareness of our default tendencies. This self-awareness allows us to respond mindfully to the needs before us, rather than out of habit.
Secondly, it’s developing awareness of the situation. It’s helpful to think of adjusting one’s strengths like the volume control on a radio. The trick is to get the setting just right for the situation. Knowing how much passion to put into our communication, how seriously to stress a concern, how deep to get into the details, how fast to drive an initiative – these all require a deft touch – equal parts of knowing your strengths and knowing your audience. Coaching provides an experience to learn those skills and develop conflict competence and is a core skill passed on from a coach to a leader who learns how to coach subordinates.
One way to quickly identify the challenges and people’s perception of how effective people are in difficult situations, is by using a 360 multi-rater survey. Having used the Conflict Dynamics Profile (CDP 360) for more than a decade, I have my clients use the CDP 360 survey to recognize and address challenging issues, to engage constructively, regulate self-control, delay a response – that is, choose constructive responses, this is never easy under stressful situations. Clients are often surprised by the results of their survey, how they think and how others see them in this comprehensive survey. The CDP survey provides the coach and the client, a process to help the manager close the gap between self-perception and others’ perception, with new awareness of what gets in the way of effectively practicing those attributes mentioned earlier, and create and develop an action plan to practice new ways of dealing with conflict. I find this the best way to mitigate a manager’s “under the hood” conflict situations and tune down (or up) the earlier learned habits that limit effectiveness and productivity and to learn and practice conflict competence.
Joe Tomaselli is an executive coach and team development specialist and is the Managing Principal of Exelligence LLC in New York.