This post was first published on the Leading by DESIGN blog on June 27, 2016.

In this post I will answer some questions that have come up from time to time about the model we use for engaging conflict. Do you remember the model? It’s six simple-to-understand-but-hard-to-do steps:

  1. Share your perspective—hopefully in thirty seconds or less
  2. Seek to understand the other’s perspective
  3. Seek to be understood by the other person
  4. Check for agreement
  5. Look for a way forward together (“So how shall we proceed?”)
  6. Follow through on whatever was decided.

It’s that simple. And it’s also incredibly powerful if you want to be a person worth following.

We call this model Leaning into Healthy Conflict. Why that name?
I thought long and hard about what to name this skill, which has been so important in my career. I chose the phrase “leaning into” because my experience in West Michigan (and many other places throughout US and Canada) is that most people lean away when things get relationally difficult or awkward. My guess is that about 80% of people tend to lean away from conflict.

The 20% who do naturally lean into difficult or awkward situations often do so in a combative and sometimes toxic way. That’s where the word “healthy” comes in. The way a person leans in needs to be healthy for both parties and for the living system, which will naturally resist the dialogue.

Our job as LEAD 365 leaders is to learn how to readily lean in (which is less about skill and more about intentionality) and do so in the healthiest of ways (which is where some skill comes in).

Why is Leaning into Healthy Conflict the most important of all the skills studied in LEAD 365? I have a few reasons:

  1. It helps to solve issues that often go unresolved. This makes a team’s performance rise, which is incredibly important in the competitive environment where most of us reside.
  2. More importantly in my estimation, it leads to greater trust and closer bonds between people. This trust not only makes our work more enjoyable, it also makes a team perform at a higher level. Being on a team that readily resolves issues and builds relationships in doing so is like fighting unfair! I love it!
  3. Becoming comfortable and skilled at leaning into healthy conflict also opens the door for more transparent feedback—in both directions. Again, this gives a team an unfair advantage over other teams that don’t have this.

Of course there are several books that also support my belief of the importance of doing well with conflict. A couple that have a lot of acclaim are Fierce Conversations and Crucial Conversations. We can highly recommend both.

Why is Leaning into Healthy Conflict so hard?
People aren’t sure how the other person will respond, which brings up that most common of fears, fear of the unknown. The unknown scares most of us and so we lean away, or come in with bullets blazing, trying to overpower any undesired response. When we can become more comfortable being uncomfortable with the unknown, we are more courageous at engaging these potentially difficult conversations.

Here are some highlights you may have heard us use when we taught this model in your cohort:

  • Seeking to understand another’s perspective until they feel understood is an act of love. Loving someone in this way earns you the right to share your more informed perspective when they are more likely to be able to listen.
  • Truth without love can be mean. Love without truth can be a lie. This approach requires both truth and love.
  • About three times out of five, this approach reveals that there was no real issue—there was just a misunderstanding of what was said or done.
  • Almost two times out of five, it will help solve the real issue that does exist.
  • Every now and then, it won’t solve the difficult issue, but at least the different perspectives on the issue will be out in the open rather than lurking in the shadows.
  • Very rarely—maybe 2% of the time—this approach will not go well. The issue won’t be resolved and the relationship will be hurt by it.

It’s worth the risk!

One of the joys I have is when some of you have said, “Hey, it really works!” after trying the model for the first time. Yes, it does. Keep growing your willingness and ability to do it well. If you haven’t leaned in lately, give it a try this week. If you need some processing time before doing it, give one of us a call and we’ll take you through it.

If you have a good story of how it worked for you in the past, let us know. We would love to hear it.

Thanks for being a person worth following!

Image by Free the Image. Used under CC BY 2.0 license.