June 17, 2013

Conquering Conflict

Questions are powerful, and asking the right ones is somewhat of an art form. Most leaders are skillful at the art of asking questions, but when the tables are turned, not many leaders are great listeners.

A common weakness of every leader is the ability to listen well and respond to emotional issues within his or her organization. It might be the problem troubling you at this moment, the one that despite your well-trained staff, doesn’t seem to go away. People aren’t robots after all. Both leaders of large and small organizations encounter problems that involve conflict, misunderstanding and disagreement.

But a good leader knows how the uncomfortable stuff is good growth material. How any leader handles or neglects emotional crises reveals something very important about his character.

A leader with strong character will confront an uncomfortable conversation with a colleague or employee right off. Yet there are those leaders who feel they’ve paid their dues as referee within the company and have just given up or passed it onto other staff.

Overall, I don’t think entitlement prevents leaders from addressing emotional issues in their organizations–it’s the reality that humans don’t like conflict.  A lack of preparedness to confront it results in fear and avoidance.

I’m not going to give you the five best ways to resolve a conflict. I can provide a single powerful tool that will stop conflict dead in it’s tracks. It’s called Active Listening.

Most leaders have never been effectively trained, or introduced, to the real power of Active Listening. Listening seems so passive, right? It’s not working toward a solution, not in the traditional sense at least.

But have you ever noticed what happens when you go to the doctor? If you have a good one, he or she will greet you, some kind of small talk will ensue, you’ll start to open up and in a natural kind of way, the important issues get discussed.

This happens as the doctor grants you uninterrupted time and space to share what you’ve been experiencing, feeling, seeing or thinking. Active Listening facilitates a solution to the problem. The doctor takes time to reflect on your response and all the possible conclusions and only at the end does he order tests or interject his professional opinion.

Male leaders struggle a great deal with this. We are solution-fixated by nature, and problems that muddy the water in the emotional department often send us running. We know there’s not always a quick fix and we’d rather go about our business hoping it will go away or resolve itself. But it’s our responsibility to engage, be present and willing to embrace discomfort within our homes and at our places of work.

The best-of-the-best embrace discomfort because it’s a catalyst for growth.

It’s that simple and that difficult. One of my favorite aspects of coaching is engaging the full spectrum of someone’s life, and suggesting ways they can improve in every area. It’s not just coaching for professional efficiency or improved health, though both are real results. It’s coaching for the whole person! 

You can’t thrive when ignoring key weaknesses. Plant both feet firmly in the arena to get real results. Embrace discomfort, don’t run from it, and tune in next week to learn a few simple how-to’s for Active Listening or subscribe to the blog if you haven’t already!

 To your excellence,


Coach Greg