5 Keys to Overcoming Interpersonal Conflict

Fortune Cookie About ConflictToday’s post is by Jim Dethmer and Diana Chapman, authors of The 15 Commitments of Conscious Leadership (CLICK HERE to get your copy).

In a recent executive coaching survey conducted by Navalent and co-sponsored by Stanford Graduate School of Business, senior executives and directors said the area with the greatest need for improvement was conflict management. These results lead to the question: When serving multiple constituencies, how do you navigate conflicting agendas and the relational conflict that ensues?

In our experience, the need for conflict management skill is not unique to CEOs. It is a master skill of all conscious leaders (and conscious people). We offer five keys to navigating conflict for those who strive to become a transformational leader who moves herself and her team to a whole new level of effectiveness.

1. Hold your story lightly and encourage others to do the same. Destructive conflict occurs when stakeholders fight to be right. Conscious leaders learn, at a deep level, that ego driven leadership is built upon the need to be seen as being right. Being right is not the issue. Needing to be seen by everyone as being right is what causes dysfunctional conflict. Everyone has an opinion, a belief, a way of seeing the issue, and leaders are confident that their way of seeing things is right. Great leaders go beyond this. They actually develop the ability to have an opinion, yet hold the opinion lightly. This doesn’t mean that they lack conviction. What it means is that they can suspend their conviction in order to really listen to others, learn and create an encompassing solution.

Key Question: How is the opposite of my story as true or truer than my story?

2. Listen deeply from the head, the heart and the gut. The environment for all unhealthy conflict is an inability to listen. In fact, it is impossible to have destructive conflict if all parties deeply listen to one another. Great leaders are great listeners. They learn to listen from their head for content. They listen until they fully understand another’s point of view AND until the other believes their point of view is understood. Conscious leaders also listen from the heart. They listen for the feelings of those involved in the issue. This cornerstone quality of leaders with high EQ (emotional intelligence) creates an environment of empathic connection which allows for great collaboration. Without validating what another is feeling the issue often keeps recirculating. Great leaders also listen from their gut for what it is that all the stakeholders most deeply want. When a leader listens for what others really want they can often see new paths to resolution that a non-listening leader can’t see.

Key Question: What does the other person think, feel and most deeply want?

3. FACE what you most want to avoid facing. Conflict is often the outward expression of the inward reality that a leader is not fully facing a key issue in their organization, team or life. When we don’t fully face the key issues of our lives, conflict keeps coming back and remains unresolved. Currently, we are coaching one CEO who has a recurring conflict with his CFO. They have been together for 11 years and have had a great run. But now one thing after another becomes a conflict. They are working in a fairly constant state of tension. What the CEO has been unwilling (until now) to face is that he can no longer work with his CFO. The work has grown beyond the scope of his once trusted ally. But rather than fully face the ending of the relationship, the CEO continues “creating” conflict over countless issues that are not the real issue. Great leaders face the deepest issues in their lives. They face them squarely, courageously and humbly.

Key Question: What about this situation am I not fully facing?

4. Commit to find solutions that benefit all. Conscious leaders commit deep inside themselves to holding a space where a win for all parties can emerge. This commitment creates a totally different context for resolution that isn’t available when leaders look for win/lose (compete) or lose/lose (compromise) solutions. The key to holding a space for these wins lies in the ability of the transformational leader to not give in to the common beliefs around scarcity. It will appear to everyone involved in the conflict that “there is not enough” for everyone to have what they most want. This is a common form of consciousness. One of the questions that great leaders ask stakeholders is:

Key Question: How can our alliance create enough of what we all want so that we can all get what we most want?

5. Don’t take the conflict seriously. This one is radical. To the leader, in the midst of the conflict, it seems serious. Others are even telling you how serious it is. We mistakenly believe that taking it seriously makes us focus and brings forth our best thinking. Actually, taking it seriously activates our fear mechanisms and limits our capacity for creative, innovative thinking. In order for something to appear as serious it must pose a threat to our three basic wants: approval, control and security.   Once we believe these are threatened (which we almost always to do in conflict) we go into the fear reactivity of fight, flight, freeze or faint, none of which are helpful for real breakthroughs.  Great leaders learn that from a distance, nothing is serious.

Key Question: If I look back at this issue in 25 years will it really seem all that serious?

Conscious leadership is a radical new path to sustainable success that requires a new approach to conflict. This new approach invites all parties involved to see that the conflict is here for their learning. If everyone involved gets curious about what they can learn from what is occurring, it will result in real breakthroughs and all finger pointing and blame will end.

– Jim Dethmer is a coach, speaker, and team builder. Jim works with leaders and their teams, strengthening their effectiveness through customized coaching and consulting.  Learn more about him at

Diana Chapman currently coaches top-level executives and their teams through major transitions, and supports them in creating enduring personal and professional relationships. Learn more about her at

For those looking to make themselves and their organizations more proactive, productive, and creative, 15 Commitments of Conscious Leadership is a transformative guide. See for more information or CLICK HERE to get your copy now.

Did you enjoy this post? If so, I highly encourage you to take about 30 seconds to become a regular subscriber to this blog. It’s free, fun, practical, and only a few emails a week (I promise!). SIGN UP HERE to get the thoughtLEADERS blog conveniently delivered right to your inbox!

Photo: The Purpose of Argument by jon collier

One Response to “5 Keys to Overcoming Interpersonal Conflict”

  1. RJ Bradner says:

    EXCELLENT POST! This should be taught in EVERY grade of school through college. If I had a dollar for every conflict I have witnessed in 4 decades of business that could have been solved by one of these 5 tenets, I would be a very rich man. Well done. Thank you.

Leave a Reply

  • ©Copyright thoughtLEADERS, LLC. All rights reserved. All materials contained on this site are protected by United States copyright law and may not be reproduced, distributed, transmitted, displayed, published or broadcast in whole or in part without the EXPRESS WRITTEN CONSENT OF thoughtLEADERS, LLC. Content may not be republished, reproduced or distributed in whole or in part without the proper attribution of the work and disclosure of its source including a direct link back to the original content. You may not alter or remove any trademark, copyright or other notice from copies of the content nor can you modify the content in any way. However, you may download material from this website for your personal, noncommercial use only. Links to websites other than those owned by thoughtLEADERS, LLC are offered as a service to readers. thoughtLEADERS, LLC was not involved in their production and is not responsible for their content.

    thoughtLEADERS, LLC has worked to ensure the accuracy of the information included herein. thoughtLEADERS, LLC is not engaged in rendering legal, accounting, or other professional services beyond training, coaching, and consulting. Its reports or articles should not be construed as professional advice on any particular set of facts or circumstances. thoughtLEADERS, LLC is not responsible for any claims or losses that may arise from any errors or omissions in our reports or reliance upon any recommendation or advice provided by thoughtLEADERS, LLC.

    thoughtLEADERS, LLC is committed to protecting your privacy. You can read our privacy policy by clicking here.