When There’s Conflict—Deal With It!

It’s your first day as a “leader” and you’re basking in the glow of your advancement! Life is good, your ego is riding high from your promotion, your first cup of morning coffee is perfect, and you’re thinking this is easy…what can go wrong? And then the phone rings.

During my time as a naval officer, I don’t remember a day of not having some sort of “conflict” to deal with.

You answer it, and on the other end is your boss screaming at you saying “We (specifically YOU) have a problem! Someone in your division cost us a big money project because of their poor attitude and performance. Find out who it was and fix it ASAP!!” And suddenly your bright, sunny day becomes a thunderstorm of conflict resolution.

Can You Avoid Conflict as a Leader?

One of Merriam-Webster’s definitions of “conflict” is: “a serious disagreement or argument, typically a protracted one.” Whatever definition you use, conflict is no fun, and as a leader, it’s generally unavoidable.

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During my time as a naval officer, I don’t remember a day of not having some sort of “conflict” to deal with.  Quite frequently, it was administrative in nature, like completing paperwork that I had been putting off, or maybe conducting a few “counseling” sessions for one (or more) of my platoon SEALs who had been a bit too rambunctious on liberty. Whatever the “conflict,” it was a nuisance and always took away time from more positive things that I would rather have been doing. And, as I got more senior in rank, conflict resolution became more frequent and complex.

Leaders Have to Check Their Egos

My simplest example of conflict resolution was when I was coordinating military assets (planes, ships, etc) for a major training exercise where SEALs would be participating. I had initially arranged for the use of a submarine to support one training event, and during a follow-on exercise planning meeting, a group of Marines said they needed the submarine at the same day/time that the SEALs would be using it, and because they felt that they had higher priority, the submarine was theirs.

Whatever the “conflict,” it was a nuisance and always took away time from more positive things that I would rather have been doing.

To make a long story short, I identified the senior Marine in the group (who just happened to be the same rank as I was at the time) and suggested that we (just he and I) sit down and compare each other’s exercise schedules. He reluctantly agreed, and what we quickly found out was that the SEALs would be off the submarine well BEFORE the Marines needed it later that same day.

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So, by checking our egos and eliminating the service rivalry emotions, we were able to come to a positive (and more professional) resolution where the SEALs and the Marines could BOTH use the submarine during the exercise.

Coach’s tip(s) for the month:

  • Don’t run away from conflict or worse, try to ignore it. Accept it as being a big part of your job as a leader/supervisor/manager. Learn how to manage it.
  • Get smart on conflict resolution. Become familiar with the five conflict resolution strategies developed by Kenneth Thomas and Ralph Kilmann: Avoiding, Defeating, Compromising, Accommodating, and Collaborating. No doubt you will need to use one (or all of them) sometime as a leader.
  • Don’t waffle when resolving conflict. As a leader, YOU will need to make hard decision(s). Figure out what’s best for the company/organization, make the call, and then stick by it.

That’s it for this month! See you all in July!

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About John Havlik

CAPT John “Coach” Havlik, U.S. Navy SEAL (Retired), led special operations teams around the world during his 31-year naval career, to include the Naval Special Warfare Development Group, the SEAL’s most elite operational unit. CAPT Havlik was a nationally-ranked swimmer, and is a member of the West Virginia University Sports Hall of Fame and Mountaineer Legends Society. @CoachHavlik www.CoachHavlik.com

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