Deal with differences appropriately to build relationships and improve outcomes
Conflict is a necessary and not always comfortable part of life.
When we manage conflict constructively, we learn about ourselves and also about others. Conflict occurs when our beliefs, opinions or
actions are challenged by someone else or when we experience or decide to challenge a difference of opinion with others.
While it may be uncomfortable to have those difficult conversations in trying to understand another’s point of view, these conversations help to build relationships and also can lead to better outcomes.
As a manager and leader, it is important that you are aware of your own emotions and use your experience constructively, so that you
can be open and in a place to listen.
Striving for what is “fair” involves a fine balance of empathy and levels of assertiveness. Every manager and leader faces those situations where outcomes and decisions may not be popular, but because there is a culture of trust and involvement, potential conflict is minimised.
Conflict occurs because of different perspectives and differing needs at any one time.
Five tips for leaders dealing with conflict
● Be alert and calm; you will then more accurately read and interpret oral and non-oral communication
● Be aware of your emotions and behaviour
● Actively listen to the feelings being expressed as well as the spoken words of others
● Respect differences. Do not use disrespectful words and actions
● Perhaps most importantly, don’t allow issues that require addressing to escalate
The destructive elements of conflict can be prevented by building an environment of openness and trust where individuals feel empowered
to share and to challenge appropriately, without fear of reprisals.
This kind of dialogue can only take place when individuals are fully engaged. They also need to be prepared to have those difficult conversations before situations escalate.
To prevent and manage conflict, good leaders need to build trust in their team. You do this by creating a culture of openness and honesty through regular times of dialogue and involvement. Individuals feel free to be honest and discuss any concerns.
When I was a Macmillan clinical nurse specialist in palliative care, patients and carers would sometimes express feelings of anger, such as why was the cancer diagnosis made so late, why was the treatment not being successful, why were the symptoms not being controlled? Clearly, endeavouring to respond honestly to the presenting issue would be the first response, but actively listening and demonstrating empathy is vitally important in building trust. Without trust a therapeutic relationship with patients can never be established. As a leader you need to role model these behaviours.
Stephen Richards is director of Professionals Engagement at Macmillan Cancer Support, leading teams that support the workforce of more than 7,500 Macmillan professionals. He has held various nursing and management roles in the NHS