Hate conflict? Turn tension into triumph with these five practical tips.
Why you can’t afford to avoid conflict – and how to navigate it with confidence.
Raise your hand if you like conflict!
I know, I know…
Nobody’s raising their hand right now, because nobody likes conflict.
But conflict is an inevitable reality for every organization and every leader.
Last month, I had the honor of speaking with Patrick Lencioni on my podcast, How Leaders Lead.
And I love the insight he shared when the topic of conflict came up:
“Here's what happens when you don't have good conflict around issues and ideas,” Patrick told me. “It ferments into conflict around people.”
In other words, if leaders don’t help their teams get to the heart of issues when they arise, it can easily turn into interpersonal conflict and drama.
Things go unsaid, feelings get hurt, and it gets harder to build the trust and cooperation you need on your team to get things done.
Unfortunately, this is all too common. Research shows that 27% of people have seen conflict turn into a personal attack at work.
And we’ve all been in a meeting where we felt the tension of an unacknowledged conflict. Everyone leaves feeling uneasy, and it undermines the trust in the team (and in the leader).
When it’s handled properly, conflict is a powerful tool. It can help your team find innovative solutions, anticipate problems, and relate to each other with more empathy.
If you want to be the kind of leader who navigates conflict with confidence, then keep reading. I’ve got five practical tips to help you. Let’s go!
1. Consider where conflict is hiding.
Before a conflict even arises, one of the most essential steps is understanding the lay of the land.
Having a solid grasp of the issues and players involved will equip you to navigate conflicts more effectively.
Know your team, their strengths, and potential areas of tension. Anticipate where clashes might occur and dive deep into those areas.
For example, marketing people typically hate price increases. But the finance team loves them!
If a discussion around price increase comes up with both of those people in the room, draw out the perspectives from both marketing and finance. Ask each of those people what they’re thinking.
By anticipating the dynamics at play, you can sniff out conflict and address it openly instead of letting it go unsaid.
2. Don’t “Take Things Offline”
I always hate it when, in the middle of a discussion, a leader chimes in and says, “Let’s take this offline.”
It's tempting to sweep disagreements under the rug or take them offline to avoid confrontation.
But, like Patrick Lencioni points out, this approach often leads to festering resentment and misunderstandings.
Instead, bring conflicts out into the open. When you address issues openly and transparently, you create a culture of accountability and openness.
I've found that this approach also saves valuable time. By tackling the issues head-on, you can move forward with a clear understanding of the situation. And that will free up everyone’s time and mental energy to focus on finding a solution.
3. Reward conflict
Contrary to popular belief, conflict doesn't always equate to negativity.
Healthy conflict—the kind with respectful disagreements and diverse viewpoints—can be a catalyst for innovation and better decision-making.
As leaders, it's our responsibility to create an environment where healthy debate is not only welcomed but celebrated.
When you witness passionate discussions within your team, don't shy away from it. Instead, acknowledge and commend the people who are stepping into that tension.
By recognizing those behaviors, you communicate that you value differing opinions. You’re telling everyone, “Hey, that’s the kind of honesty and transparency we need around here to get to the best solutions.”
In my meetings, I had a phrase: “Healthy debate, healthy decision.” When a team works through a tough issue, people tend to trust the eventual solution. Even if they don’t fully agree with it, they’re more likely to get on board because they know the process to get there was open and honest.
By recognizing healthy debate when you see it, you send a clear message that constructive conflict is a driving force for progress.
4. Ensure people are truly listening.
Active listening is key to navigating conflict, and the example starts with you. Demonstrate active listening during meetings and discussions, and set the standard for your team.
When people feel heard, they know that their opinions are respected and valued. They’re more likely to engage in productive dialogue instead of resorting to unproductive arguments.
In her incredible career as one of the world’s top PR executives, Mory Fontanez has seen her fair share of conflict. When I asked her how she manages it, she told me it all starts with active listening and empathy.
“[When] we listen, and we're constantly thinking about our rebuttal, that's not empathy,” Mory told me. “Empathy is, ‘what is it that you're saying, and how can I identify with the feeling?’
“I don't have to agree with the point of view, but maybe if I can uncover the feeling behind it…I can relate to that feeling. And then that way, we're coming from a common ground, and conflict doesn't feel so divisive anymore.”
To create that kind of empathetic atmosphere, make active listening the expectation for your team. When everyone feels heard and acknowledged, you’ll pave the way for more productive conflict and a better overall outcome.
5. Keep the focus on your shared goal
At the heart of every conflict lies a shared goal: the desire to drive the organization forward.
Remind your team that despite differing viewpoints, everyone is striving for the same outcome—whether it's growth, sales, or a successful launch.
When conversations start to veer toward personal disagreement or get stuck in the weeds, redirect people toward that big goal.
By keeping everyone oriented around the bigger goal of a solution and success, you foster a sense of unity. You remind everyone of the overall positive intention in the room.
This mindset shift is key if you want people to rise above their differences and find the best path forward.
As a leader, you have the power to guide these conversations and inspire your team to focus on what truly matters.
Conflict is hard, full stop.
But it’s not a sign of chaos.
In fact, it’s a testament to effective leadership.
When handled with care and purpose, it can spark innovation, strengthen relationships, and drive progress.
I hope these tips remind you that your job isn’t to avoid conflict – it’s to transform it into an opportunity for growth.
Now, I’d love to hear from you! Tell me about a time when conflict helped you reach a better outcome. How did you navigate it as a leader?