I’ve been struck by the story of Samson found in the Old Testament Book of Judges, chapters 13-16.  With the gift of unusual strength, he was the spark to freeing the Israelites from Philistine domination.  Be he had a fatal flaw – a rampant narcissism – that lead to his fall and eventual destruction.  It’s heroic only in that Samson used his destruction to destroy the Philistine leaders.  It’s a story the Greeks understood very well – after all, how many of their heroes had fatal flaws?

There will always be conflict in this world simply because people will have different objectives they want to achieve.  Most conflict is not that important – what to have for dinner or which movie to see – but, a quick perusal of the newspaper highlights conflicts that have literal life and death consequences.  Fortunately, most people are not involved in such conflicts, but must deal with the more mundane conflicts that exist in everyday life.

Whenever there is conflict, we have five ways of dealing with it.

  • Avoid it – It’s there and everyone knows it’s there, but one or more parties to the conflict just tiptoe around the subject and never face the issue.
  • Compromise – Each party gives a little to gain a little. No one wins everything, but no one loses everything.
  • Ignore it – Whether through a refusal to acknowledge the possibility or a lack of understanding, no conflict is seen even when it exists, or the results are ascribed to something else.
  • Resolve it – This involves each party sitting down and listening and understanding the other parties to the conflict, finding common ground and a solution that achieves as many of the aims of all parties as possible. This is not compromise.
  • Force it – When one party has authority or power over the other parties, they dictate what the resolution will be regardless of the other party’s needs.

There’s a time and place for each method – it may not be satisfying to live with the threat of nuclear annihilation, but avoiding that annihilation is better than tossing nukes at each other.  Stephen Covey popularized the idea of describing these methods as a measure of who wins and loses, with resolving being win-win and therefore the best method.  But there are many factors which go into determining what’s best.  Time available to reach a resolution is a major determinant as to which method can be used.  When you ship is sinking, someone must take charge of the lifeboats – that’s forcing in action.

That is why a leader or manager must know and understand each of the conflict resolution methods.  They must also understand the consequences of each method.  The Resolution method may be win-win and produce the happiest result, but if there isn’t time to implement it, then the leader must be willing to accept that the results won’t be universally appreciated.

Such is the price of being a leader or manager.

A physicist by trade, author by choice, a born teacher, a retired veteran, and an adamant problem solver, Frank has helped the White House, federal agencies, military offices, historical museums, manufacturers, and over 250 technology startups get stuff done, communicate effectively, and find practical solutions that work for them. In his spare time, he makes sawdust and watches Godzilla movies.