Sometimes people say I am crazy because I don’t believe that conflict is a bad thing.
Maybe it is because I spent nearly a decade managing national conflict resolution programs at the United States Postal Service.
Or maybe it is because I’m the kind of guy that has never been afraid of a challenge or possibly because my life story has been shaped by some powerful experiences of reconciliation.
But whatever reason it is, this is what I know: Conflict can actually be very positive.
Conflict raises important issues to the surface. It is how you manage conflict or don’t manage it that can make it a problem.
Most of us want to be happy. We want to live and work in an environment where everyone likes us and where our contributions are valued.
We want to walk away from our family life, our jobs and our friendships feeling better for them and vice versa.
So when conflict arises—whether it be because of miscommunication, differences in personality or a multitude of other reasons—so many of us try to avoid the conflict instead of addressing it head on.
We’d rather live in denial than to have our circumstances be made worse (we think) by bringing up the conflict.
And it is this fear of conflict, especially for those of us in positions of leadership, from which deeply embedded problems emerge.
This is what I know: Leaders who can’t deal well with conflict will not have long tenures in whatever place they are seeking to lead.
So for all of those who avoid conflict at all costs, here are some of my suggestions:
1. Do not be afraid to talk to the person with whom you have the difficultly.
Clear the air. Take them to coffee. Seek to find common ground.
Sometimes the worst thing you can do is fill the void of conflict with silence. Making an effort can go a long way to the ultimate resolution.
2. When you can’t find common ground, do not talk badly about this person to others.
Though it could be very comforting to belittle, demean or judge the person with whom you have a conflict in group settings—don’t. Remember what your mama said, “If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all.”
3. Consider your own personal responsibility in the conflict.
Oftentimes our first reaction to a dispute is to blame the other person, taking ourselves completely out of the picture. But don’t. There are always two sides to every story, two perspectives to any situation.
So spend some time in self-reflection with a willingness to say that you are sorry for your part of the blame.
4. Keep the end goal in mind: new understanding.
One of the best gifts any relationship can be given is conflict. For conflict can be a catalyst for deeper connection, stronger appreciation and mutual admiration for what is outside the norm of your own experience.
You might actually walk away from a contentious discussion with greater respect for the person you might have once hated. This all can happen if you are committed to the process, no matter how long it takes.
Bottom line: conflict is not bad. It’s all in how you deal with it.
Kevin Hagan is president and CEO of Feed the Children, an international nonprofit humanitarian aid organization. A version of this article first appeared on his blog and is used with permission. You can follow him on Twitter @KLHagan.
Editor’s note: You can watch Hagan’s Skype interview with EthicsDaily.com’s media producer, Cliff Vaughn, here.