In my work with organizations, I often receive calls from leaders hoping I might be able to solve a conflict problem for them.  It often looks like two people in conflict.  There is a pain point.   Perhaps someone is refusing to communicate with someone else.  Perhaps harsh words have been spoken or tears shed.

There was something that brought the situation to the place where a leader has decided that it’s time to bring someone in.
This step of taking action is the first foundational competency of a Collaborative Leader.  To take responsibility for conflict is key. 
The question quickly arises “Who’s conflict is this anyway?”   When I hear answers like this from a leader, I know I have my work cut out for me:

  • “It’s their problem.They just need to learn how to get along.”
  • “They are acting like children.”
  • “We just need to separate them. That should solve it.”

These type of answer do not lead to a leader taking action.  Instead, the conflict “problem” stays with the individuals involved who are struggling.  It is certainly common enough to believe that a conflict resides with the two people from where it may originate.  “It’s none of my business.”  “It’s nosy to pry.”  “They’ll ask for help if they need it.”

These type of comments are based on an individualistic notion of conflict.  In the dominant North American culture, we expect conflict to take place and be resolved with individuals. 

In a community-oriented culture, conflict is everyone’s business.  William Ury, in his book The Third Side, had the opportunity to study peace-oriented cultures. A key discovery is that they all had a place, a circle, where individual conflicts could be brought to “talk, talk, talk.”  When interviewing Martin Winiecki recently for our podcast, he spoke about how his intentional community in Portugual does not expect people to be “alone” with their conflicts.  The community is there for individuals and their conflicts.

This way of looking at conflict takes some getting used to.  Usually, when conflict is present, most want to ignore it.  So, it takes an act of will, an act of taking responsibility for things to be different. It can help to think of the conflict itself as only the proverbial “tip of the iceberg”.  For things to come to a head, as it were, there are often complex and intertwined reasons.  It takes more minds to help solve the situation.  It takes more minds and more time.

It takes circles and “talk, talk, talk.”

What would it be like for you to consider that conflict is more like an iceberg and that conflict is: everybody’s problem.

“Bad men need nothing more to compass their ends, than that good men should look on and do nothing.”  … John Stuart Mill