I'm certainly beginning to date myself with the title of this post with a song reference dating back 28 years - and the last century - but it seemed to resonate with the topic of conflict that I am about to explore. Now there are whole classes and texts focused on the subject of conflict - sources and how to address or resolve. What I hope to add to the topic are some of my own personal observations and experiences relating to my coaching and consulting practice - and my personal challenges as well.
As a starting point I'm going to come back to two related and foundational elements that potentially start to explain sources of conflict - self-awareness and personal values. In my coaching and consulting work there are many occasions where I find myself trying to help my clients work through issues of anger, frustration, anxiety and even depression. First let me be clear - none of what I describe borders on areas of clinical diagnosis or treatment - those are well beyond my bounds! No, what I speak of is the garden variety set of negative emotions that all of us have experienced on a regular basis. As these emotions are brought to the fore with my clients we can often use these experiences to help them better understand who they are and what they stand for. These negative experiences (and even the positive polar opposites) can act as an opportunity for reflection, self-understanding, and personal clarity.
Working from my own personal examples, I will admit that I might be a bit on the geeky side of this equation in having had some version of my own personal mission, vision and values statements since my mid-20's. Focusing in on personal values, I have been pleased to see a lot of stability in them over the years. Some of the most important to me are: Integrity, Commitment and Learning.
Working on the premise that "feeling out of sorts" in work and in life can be a signal that our values are being challenged or under assault what types of circumstances help(ed) me understand my own values. The first critical step is being prepared to step back from a set of circumstances and understand what is happening for me? Why am I reacting in any given situation? Presuming I hadn't already identified values of Integrity, Commitment and Learning, I have to have the capacity, courage and discipline to use my higher order reasoning to figure out what's going on and what makes this particular "issue" or circumstance important to me in one way or another. I have to be ready to pause, think, learn and apply this learning.
As it relates to Integrity, I have come to define this with a variety of other words including authenticity, transparency and honesty. There is the further reality of after having declared a set of values and principles that I ACTUALLY live by them. There is an explicit expectation that I will act in accordance with those values even in difficult times and treat people by the same standards regardless of "station" in life. As I reflect upon times where I have been made to feel uncomfortable in my skin it can be related directly back to times I did not live up to my own expectations. In other circumstances it has been where other (avowed) leaders have not lived up to their stated personal or organizational values - the emperor has had no clothes - or treated others as less or more depending on title or role. In many organizations - private sector, public sector, religious, political - a significant challenge for me (and disenchantment on the part of the pubic) are leaders who don't walk their talk or hold themselves above others.
As it relates to Commitment, I pride myself on quality of effort, quality of product or service delivered, and trying to bring my best to bear at all times. That level of perfection can certainly cause one to pay a price! Hard to attain perfection in every aspect of one's life. But as I have learned and matured, I have tried to be very conscious of what taking on a commitment will mean. A recent and ongoing example of this is in the area of mentorship. I've been a mentor in one or more of my professions for at least a decade, maybe two. A commitment to mentor really means something to me - be prepared to give of yourself, take a mentee as seriously as your highest paying client, being available for them as they require. It's not just an excuse to round out your resume. So when I start to feel that I can't deliver on that equation it literally starts to make me twitchy. In like manner, I am highly offended by mentees and other mentors who can't seem to take this relationship seriously. Taking this even further and deeper I will have to be completely honest that I have a hard time taking feedback on my performance from others if I don't see them as highly committed to a cause or effort as I believe myself to be.
Finally as it relates to Learning, or rather continuous learning, I am motivated by a desire to explore, learn, and experience. Where that value is challenged has often come from being prevented from being the kind of explorer or creator I strive to be or being blocked by the resistance of others to learn, adapt and change. In these latter circumstances, it is well beyond rational to expect excitment at the prospect of learning new ways of doing things. Learning and change can often be two sides of the same coin. Too often too many of us can experience change as a threat rather than as an opportunity. Too often we see our identity tied to a certain skill set or sense of competence in how we have done things for a long period of time. So for me, the inability to learn, to read, to explore - and see that willingess in others - can often be source of conflict.
So what's my conclusion and request to you? First, when you start to feel yourself feeling unsettled pay attention to the circumstances of your situation and the type of conflict reaction you are having. Evaluate those feelings as an indicator of what actually might be at stake for you. Second, as you evaluate those feelings start to evaluate and define those feelings. Boil them down to the hot buttons and important principles that could be under challenge for you. Define them in your terms, e.g., what does Integrity, Authenticity, Balance, Humility, Quality, etc., mean to you. We each have our own unique definition. Finally, once you have solidified those values in your own mind keep working with them, refining them and using them to positive effect.
Knowing your own values will allow you to more consciously make the right choices for you and allow you to anticipate and manage conflict situations when they arise. Stop - Think - Act - Review.
There is no true leadership other than conscious leadership. Know thyself or continue on a path of frustration and unproductive conflict.
Greg Hadubiak, MHSA, FACHE, CEC, PCC
President & Founder - BreakPoint Solutions