Feel the Fear and Lean Into Conflict Anyway in Business and at Work


The source of all human conflict is needs met and unmet.

Basic Mediator Training, Mediation Matters (www.mediationmatters.org)

Years before I was formally trained as a mediator, I knew intuitively that the key to authentically supporting my HR clients was to be present and listen intently even when they were in conflict or in crisis. Even when, as a fellow human, my own anxiety naturally rose (especially early in my HR career), igniting my flight defense, especially if the conflict was misdirected towards me as the HR Leader – which, as I came to learn and accept, is part of the HR Leadership job description. I felt the fear and leaned in / listened anyway. I’ve always been of the belief that when an employee is upset or team members are angry at each other, at least they’re expressing how they really feel – all the cards are on the table. From there, with that key data, we are also given the opportunity to problem-solve together.

With my mediator’s hat on (listening for the needs underneath the yelling), I encourage my clients and colleagues to lean in and listen for needs too when conflict occurs.  Moreover, when faced with opportunities for potential conflict, such as:

  • Disciplinary discussions
  • Addressing gaps in performance
  • Responding to a disgruntled customer / client
  • Setting boundaries in response to the behavior that impacts as (and/or is) hurtful and/or disruptive;

be prepared to lay out your needs (e.g., respect, accountability); the organization’s needs (e.g., performance in support of strategic goals, etc.); and anticipating the other person’s potential needs (e.g. respect, appreciation, etc.) as well as asking what the other person needs during the discussion.  I am rarely disappointed when everyone’s needs are put on the table.  It is consistently and ultimately more productive and respectful than mollifying or avoiding conflict altogether.

How will you feel the fear and lean productively into conflict anyway, in business and at work?

Two Girls Looking Angrily At Each Other

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