Attitude is King in Conflict Resolution

By Peter Barron Stark

Conflict is a natural part of life and can’t always be avoided. Sometime conflict has positive outcomes, other times conflict has negative outcomes. When it comes to conflict, a lot depends on your attitude.

An unwillingness to resolve conflict creates tension, frustration, worry, anxiety and usually, a lack of positive, constructive communication. But what is most important to managers to recognize is that unresolved conflict undermines your ability to effectively lead. When you fail to resolve a conflict on your team, the individuals involved in the conflict, as well as others who observe the conflict, lose respect for you. It’s almost impossible to be recognized as the leader when you aren’t respected.

So why are so many managers hesitant to lean into conflict?

Some simple answers include:

– They hope the conflict will resolve itself
– They are fearful that confronting the problem will make the situation worse
– They have had bad experiences when discussing the topic with the person in the past
– They don’t think the conflict is that big of a deal
– They don’t ask about topics or situations that they’d prefer not to know about
– They feel they can still accomplish their goals and meet their needs by working around the conflict.

When I looked at our updated Leadership Development Assessment (LDA) Benchmark data recently, I was excited to see that one of the top three differentiators of the Best of the Best leaders (top 25 percent) is the ability to solve problems and resolve conflict.

Although the Best of the Best leaders are higher on nearly every question in the benchmarks, they are approximately 10 percent higher in the category of conflict and problem resolution.

The Best of the Best Leaders are clearly doing something differently to gain a rating from their bosses, peers and direct reports that is 10 percentage points higher than everyone else in the Benchmark. From my work with them I’ve learned nine things these leaders do differently when it comes to resolving conflict:

Know the importance of attitude: Your attitude and beliefs will have a huge impact on your ability to resolve the conflict. Having confidence in yourself and believing that by leaning into the conflict you can improve the situation will benefit you as a leader. However, the opposite is also true. Lacking confidence in your abilities or having a negative attitude or vision, will most likely create a negative outcome.

Assume positive intent: Most times, when you develop a negative attitude about someone’s role in a conflict, you assume the other individual has negative intent. Great leaders assume the best about people. Leaning into the conflict with the belief that the other individuals involved also want to resolve the conflict, do the right things and improve the relationship, will help you open up dialogue to resolve the conflict.

Don’t complain…take action: An old sage once told me, “I don’t complain anymore.” He went on to add, “I figured out that 80 percent of the people I complain to don’t actually care about my problems. And, the other 20 percent are actually happy that I’m more miserable than they are.” Complaining is almost always talking about things which you believe you do not control. Focusing your mind on what you do control, believing you have the ability to positively impact the future, and then taking the necessary actions to resolve conflicts will make you the type of leader people want to follow.

Quickly apologize: When you apologize, you take the target off your back. A great opening line to any conflict you are involved in is: “I’m really sorry about what happened. It turned into a conflict and that was not my goal. For my part in creating this situation, I’m sorry.” Unfortunately, some people’s egos are so gargantuan that they impede their ability to apologize for their role in a conflict. When you lack the ability to apologize, I guarantee that this will motivate some people to keep shooting at that target on your back by pointing out your deficiencies that contributed to the conflict.

Be quicker to forgive: Forgiveness is a great healer in letting go of anger. Did you realize that when you’re angry, others have control over you? We all know someone who is angry at their parents, their spouse, their kids, their employees, or their boss and use that anger as their reason for where they are in life. It’s simple but hard for many people to do. When you forgive, and then take action, you regain control over your life.

Determine the benefits: A question every leader needs to ask when faced with conflict is, “What are the benefits of letting the conflict linger?” What are the benefits to you as the leader; to the individuals involved in the conflict; to the team; to the customers and to the organization? Almost always, you’ll find that there are few, if any, benefits to allowing the conflict to continue. Most of the time, resolving the conflict brings many benefits to everyone involved.

Listen: Most conflict is created by people opening their mouths. Use your ears more than your mouth. Asking questions and having a genuine desire to better understand your counterpart’s perspective will help you in resolving conflict. Since people like you so much better when you listen, many conflicts are resolved quickly when people communicate, listen, and truly understand.

Stay calm: It’s easy to stay calm when you have a positive attitude, a positive vision, and a belief in yourself that you have the skills to get the conflict resolved.

Take action now: Most conflicts don’t improve by ignoring them. As a manager who has a desire to be a great leader, people are looking to you with hope to make tomorrow even better than things were today. To improve the team and work environment, conflict needs to be resolved. Put the above listed tips into practice to develop the right attitude and resolve a conflict today.

Peter Barron Stark Companies is a nationally recognized management consulting company that specializes in employee engagement surveys, executive coaching, and leadership and employee training. For more information, please visit