Much of day-to-day leadership is about various kinds of conflict resolution. But often it is unnecessary to fully resolve a conflict, only to stop it from creating unnecessary friction. People who appear to be in direct opposition frequently are not, actually, when viewed from the correct perspective.
If we are all playing a children’s game, where we are holding hands and turning in a circle, if you are on the opposite side of the circle from me, you will appear to be going the opposite direction, the wrong way! STOP! Turn around!
But, if you do, the game ends up with a big mess. Sometimes, that result is obvious, sometimes it is not. Particularly, as we make the circle larger, it becomes increasingly difficult to determine that we are all going the same direction.
But once you look at the circle from the outside, it becomes much easier to see that everyone is turning the same direction. If we could create a children’s game where we turned in a climbing spiral, instead of a circle, or, in even more complex dimensions, we could even better understand how easy it is, with too little perspective, to mistake complex common effort for conflict.
So, often, the best tool for conflict resolution is not to try to make the parties involved shift directions, but to help them gain enough perspective to understand that they are actually heading the same direction. Once they see the commonality of their efforts, the friction is reduced.
Learning to recognize and manage friction before the fires break out is a vital skill in learning to combat “management by crisis”, where we never get to where we are heading because we are too busy putting out the fires.
Learning to help people find and define their common ground is perhaps the most important trait of a strong leader, and it comes from the ability to step far away enough to see the circle again. If you have trouble finding the common ground, start big and work towards more detail.
Chances are pretty good that all parties are interested in the welfare of the organization or the success of the shared task which has brought them together initially. It’s also likely that heated situations are born of deep passions. Start there. Define that initial goal, and uplift the value of the mutual passion for achieving that goal.
Caring about the outcome is critical to success, and the deeper the caring, the more intense the focus, and, by necessity, the deeper our focus, the more likely we are to lose perspective. Once focus is loosened and perspective returned, then common ground can be recovered. From that ground, we can start working towards mutually achievable goals again.