Stop running from conflict. In fact, it’s time to embrace it.

If your childhood was anything like mine then you’ve likely heard the phrases “take the high road” and “be the bigger person” more than once.  Like many of you, I heard those phrases after an “argument” with my brothers or   friends or after someone mistreated me.  But I must admit, I struggled to understand how it was my responsibility to “be the bigger person” if I was the one being wronged.  I understood that my parents were trying to teach me that not every fight is worth fighting but that’s hard.

Our instincts often lead us to stand up for ourselves and what we believe in and that makes turning the other cheek difficult.  But what I have really come to appreciate over the years is how “taking the high road” and avoiding conflict can be a double edged sword (especially in leadership) and here’s why…

Turning the other cheek takes away our opportunity to address root causes of conflict so it isn’t always the appropriate solution. Sometimes, you find yourself unwilling to surrender your position in a particular situation and that’s ok.  What matters is how we choose to respond to conflict.  Our values, beliefs and the principles that we live by are worth defending and sometimes that means “taking the high road” isn’t an option.  

Rewiring our instincts to avoid unnecessary conflict can be a good thing as long as we understand that avoiding all conflict is a bad thing.  The truth us, conflict is an inevitable part of our lives and as leaders, neglecting that fact can be detrimental to our own well-being as well as our ability to effectively navigate our role as the leader.

Conflict can be a very valuable tool for leaders if looked at with the right perspective. People are going to argue.  Especially in close knit teams.  People will disagree, have differences in opinion and challenge each other.  THIS IS GOOD!  People come from all different backgrounds and their individual experiences are what led them to developing their own set of values, principles and morals.  It’s our role as leaders to foster an environment where people can experience conflict and work through it in a healthy way.

Obviously not all conflict is caused by a direct and intentional attack on someones character. More often than not, conflict arises from simple miscommunication and misunderstandings.  As leaders, we must accept that this type of conflict is inevitable and make decisions to deal with this conflict in a productive way that helps those we lead move forward – together.  It’s our responsibility as the leader to step up and help people work through conflicts as they otherwise couldn’t (or wouldn’t) work through on their own.

By avoiding conflict, we create at atmosphere where conformity becomes the norm instead of encouraging people to express their differences and work through conflict in healthy and constructive ways.

Looking back, some of the biggest fights or arguments I’ve had in my past are with the people I am closest to today.  The more I reflect on those difficult experiences the more I realize how important working through those conflicts has been in building those relationships into what they are today.

Yes, by avoiding conflict you will likely have less arguments, stress and frustration but in the long-run, life becomes so much more difficult.

Not all fights are worth fighting but “fighting” can be healthy in the right environment. Siblings fight.  Couples argue.  Family’s and friends disagree.  Why should we expect anything to be different in our professional lives? By accepting that conflict is inevitable and by constantly pursuing ways to improve our abilities to work through conflicts on our own and with those we lead, we exponentially increase our abilities as effective leaders.

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