Dealing with conflict

Written by Jonathan Ross
19 Nov 2023

The speed of your success as a leader will be determined by your ability to have difficult conversations. What many leaders don’t realise, or perhaps ignore, is that managing an individual includes having difficult conversations and managing conflict. No matter how high your emotional intelligence (EQ) is, you won’t agree with everyone. It is your level of EQ however, that will determine what you do about it. Someone with high EQ doesn’t run away from conflict, nor do they needlessly create it. Instead, they recognise its signs, step into it and manage it in a way that moves everyone forward.

If engaging in conflict is hard for you, here are some strategies to consider so that you can embrace the challenge and address conflict and difficult conversations head on.

When you become aware of people’s different communication styles, you can learn to adapt your behaviour in a way that better suits your interaction.

Instead of avoiding a situation you know will lead to conflict, take a time out and give yourself space to think about how to manage it. Make a plan. Avoiding conflict doesn’t mean you have to run straight into it. Work out the steps you need to take to have a conversation and consider the benefits of coming out the other side of it.

Be open
Approach a difficult conversation without tying yourself to the outcome. It’s okay to have an idea about what you want from the conversation. In fact, I’d suggest you’d want to consider that in advance. But rather than tying yourself to a conclusion, go into the meeting with curiosity.

Leverage your high EQ areas
Use other areas of emotional intelligence such as social awareness and get curious about the other person you are in conflict with. Explore areas where you might connect and start to build that bridge. Look to your empathy and compassion and rather than get sucked into reacting to what is being said, pause and consider where the other person may be coming from.

Treat it as a negotiation
Consider it an opportunity to flex your negotiation skills. What do you really want from the conversation or situation? What are you willing to compromise on? How can you meet the other person where they are? Be respectful and listen to what they are telling you. What are they really saying? How can you help? Consider how you make the situation a win win for both participants.

Adapt your style
Conflict often happens between people who have different approaches and communicate differently. Some may prefer to communicate in a very direct way. They come from a place of efficiency, and they appreciate people getting to the point quickly. Other people are more relationship driven so when they engage, they make take more time to get to the point, looking first to build a connection. One way isn’t better than another, they are just different, but you can see how communication between these two types might create conflict. When you become aware of people’s different communication styles, you can learn to adapt your behaviour in a way that better suits your interaction. Employing assessments like DISC are great for defining communication preferences.