The Sharpening Stone – Friction to Fire

Conflict avoidance and conflict management are frequent topics in executive coaching. People most often avoid conflict because they are trying to circumvent undesirable reactions or ongoing relationship contention that can result from confrontation or challenge. Unfortunately, when we avoid dealing with things that are aversive to us in some way, it tends to only make it worse or make it harder to eventually address. If not managed efficiently, the point of contention may lead to a relationship rupture, loss of a good employee or may undermine an entire team. A savvy leader will remain calm and confident when navigating adversity because they can see it as an opportunity to grow the individuals involved, and the team. So, how do these advanced leaders turn friction into fire?

The keystone to diminishing aversion or fear in the face of discord is how we interpret and define “conflict.” With a simple reframe, or redefining of how we understand conflict, we can eradicate the emotional intimidation we often associate with it. It can be reconceptualized into something more emotionally neutral, and logically based. In turn this encourages a more organic process of moving toward one another in productivity, rather than away from one another in avoidance. For example, rather than having a disagreement, the focus is on realignment. Rather than having a misunderstanding, the focus is on obtaining clarification. Removing the negatively connected emotions and expectations related to the idea of conflict disarms the perception of threat or danger and replaces it with increased confidence of working with teammates toward a common goal.

Having a few neutral approaches in your repertoire can greatly reduce the temptation to avoid or procrastinate and potentially miss an opportunity to interject when this need for realignment presents itself. Simply asking someone to share more about what they are envisioning and being curious or asking to summarize your understanding of what they are proposing, suggests investment in their ideas and simultaneously invites opportunity for continued conversation in a non-threatening way. Through these tempered conversations, concerns, needs or potential downsides can more organically come to light. It equally defuses direct challenges and gives space to let logic lead over emotion. Often the outcome is even better for having put this additional effort in.

Integrating the notion of “clarification” or “realignment” over “conflict” into the culture of the workplace will promote these attitudes even more. When the workforce is encouraged to be curious and seek greater understanding, even when everyone “thinks” they are on the same page, healthy and safe communication is nurtured to grow and advance, and the potential for conflict to develop or to intensify, is minimized. When reactivity is neutralized, people feel more at ease and are more able to fully tap their talents, which ignites their passion for their work, increasing productivity and outcomes. And so, with this modest shift in perspective, leaders can turn friction, into fire.

About the Author: McKenzie Walker

McKenzie is a licensed psychologist who holds Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees from Millersville University and Master’s and Doctoral Degrees from Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine. McKenzie has spent most of her career practicing in the field of clinical psychology as both a provider and an administrator, holding the roles of therapist, evaluator, quality improvement director and compliance officer in both public and private organizations. McKenzie has built a thriving outpatient private practice as a practitioner/owner, with over a dozen clinicians and three locations.

The Sharpening Stone

The Sharpening Stone is a series of short videos from True Edge designed to sharpen leaders and their organizations.

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