Chris Schafer & Brent Carter, Authors, Intrepid Professionals: How Principles from the Military Mindset Build Extraordinary Leaders, Teams, and Businesses
In a world where adaptation to chaos is a consistent requirement, leaders need an intrepid mindset – a mode of seeing, thinking, and acting that is hyper-vigilant. There are few challenging areas that need intrepid mindsets more than conflict management. The greatest business leaders we have observed leverage three principles that drive success in conflict management: intention, intelligence gathering, and creating a space for collaboration. This doesn’t necessarily mean jumping into an argument and throat punching a bully—okay, sometimes that is required, but not always. Instead, it means to engage in the reality of the conflict, to examine why the conflict exists, and to search out any overlooked context that could help resolve the conflict.
There is an erroneous notion out there that conflict management means stopping conflict. That is not true at all. Conflict can be a highly effective, intentional way to weed out the problem. But, there is a wide range of what conflict means. In a recent Harvard Business Review article, Disrupt Yourself: Putting the Power of Disruptive Innovation to Work, Whitney Johnson stated:
I often go out of my way to avoid disagreement, searching for the win-win that means no one has to feel like a loser. But the truth is that if no idea loses, no idea, including the best one, can win. For our own good, that means we have to face off against our unwillingness to confront. We have to face off against the idea that simple disagreements are a zero-sum game, with a winner and a loser. How do we do that? To start, we can draw some finer and more nuanced distinctions. My daughter recently solicited my opinion on something. I gave it to her, and she immediately disagreed. “Why did you ask, if you weren’t going to listen?” I replied, using a favorite phrase of mothers everywhere. “I did listen,” she explained. “I just didn’t agree.” Such distinctions can help disagreement become less disagreeable.
Sometimes, the most important thing that can happen is gathering intelligence of the confrontation—understanding the mixing of opposing ideas. The end state can sometimes be uncertain, that is true, but the goal isn’t to throw the competitors into a ring and wait until the final round. The goal is to understand and empower people to find and take the next healthy step. Likewise, conflict management isn’t about manipulating people to get to your concept of peace. Sometimes, your part is only to intentionally facilitate the flow of ideas and keep the outside distractions, or threats, from invading the process.
If there is anything for a facilitator or peacemaker to boast of in a conflict, it should be for the ideal space they created for others to get to work. However, what if someone has a conflict with you? The same rules apply. You must intend to be fully engaged in what that conflict signifies. That might mean, “Yes, I completely messed that up and own it. I’m sorry.” Other times, that might mean, “I know this is difficult, but I need to hold you accountable for what happened. Still, I am not your adversary. I will walk through this with you too so we all can learn and improve.” We need to be intentional, gather intelligence, and create a space for conflict to offer solutions that otherwise would go unseen.
About the Author
Chris Schafer is is a 25 + year U.S. Army retired veteran and spent much of his military career on 3rd Special Forces Operational Detachments Alpha (ODA) teams. Brent Carter is a consultant, professor, author, speaker, and researcher in leadership and organizational behavior. He has more than 25 years experience working with Fortune 500 companies, federal agencies, and many military organizations. Their new book is Intrepid Professionals: How Principles from the Military Mindset Build Extraordinary Leaders, Teams, and Businesses https://www.intrepidprofessionals.com/