The word alone can cause people the shivers.
We all know that where there are people, there is conflict. It has always been a little baffling to me why so many see conflict is a negative thing. Certainly, it can be. However, conflict can also be very healthy if it’s handled well. Building conflict management skills is important for HR professionals as we help our teams successfully meet the priorities of the business, and ensure that conflict doesn’t disrupt progress. I strongly believe that when teams are able to navigate conflict well, the team builds strength, trust, communication, and innovation.
I had the opportunity to connect with Anna Nielson to talk about her session “Conflict Capable Leadership” at the Wisconsin State SHRM Conference in October.
Q1) Tell us more about you and what inspired you to dedicate yourself to building conflict capable leaders.
I grew up in a family that didn't show me how to handle conflict. In fact, it was just ignored and denied. It made me feel alone and stuck and I always wished it could be different. When I became a mediator and conflict resolution practitioner, I was inspired by all of the possibilities of having skills in approaching and handling conflict created.
As I have navigated my professional life, I have seen conflict be the greatest barrier to people reaching and exceeding their goals.
The problem is that people don't know that they need explicit plans/policies/guidelines for how people in their organizations should approach conflict. They have processes in place for almost everything, except for conflict. We put people in a giant fishbowl together and expect them to figure it out. The stakes are high because their behavior is tied to their paycheck. I saw this gap and knew I could create something special to solve the problem.
I believe conflict capabilities are the greatest tool for success in organizations and I want to inspire others to believe it, too.
Q2) You mentioned in the session description that shifting your mindset about conflict is a powerful leadership tool. What shift needs to take place?
When I meet people, they often only see conflict as one-dimensional. For them, it's terrifying. The shift I help people explore is learning to see conflict in all new ways by gaining understanding about what they hope to achieve from showing up to hard conversations.
Q3) Why do you think leaders fear conflict?
People are scared of it because they are unprepared and unsure of what is expected of them when conflict happens. The stakes are high when your behavior is tied to your paycheck, and it's scary to take risks.
Q4) What are some of the ways that HR can help support creating conflict capable leadership teams?
First, HR professionals can lead the way in creating conflict capable teams and organizations by asking two important questions:
Next, they can work on a plan for creating a culture where the expectations about conflict are clear. This means that everyone knows exactly what the culture expects them to do when conflict arises including what to say and how to say it. This requires training employees, and modeling, reinforcing and rewarding these actions.
Q5) What is one thing you hope attendees of your session will take back to their workplaces?
I want them to take back a sense of curiosity about conflict. By giving yourself space to experience more than just fear, you are creating endless options for yourself and the people around you.
Please be sure to add Conflict Capable Leadership to your Wisconsin SHRM Conference session line-up! This session is offered virtually and in-person on Thursday, October 13, 2022 at 12:45PM to 2:00PM (CST).
Anne Nielson is the founder and CEO of Conflict Capable Solutions. Her superpower is creating Conflict Capable leaders, teams, and organizations to drive innovation and maximize growth. She's an experienced civil mediator, conflict resolution consultant, Restorative HR practitioner, and facilitator. Anna holds a bachelor’s degree in Communication and Diversity Studies from Metropolitan State University, and a master’s degree in Advocacy and Political Leadership from the University of Minnesota, Duluth.
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