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Managing Conflict as a Leader

By Jeffrey C. Thomson, CMA, CAE
August 23, 2017
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As leaders, we are often faced with situations in which we need to mediate conflict, whether it’s with your boss, coworker, employee, or another stakeholder in your organization. Conflict in business is inevitable, especially with the pace of change, and the key to solving any conflict is to confront it head on and with respect. With IMA® (Institute of Management Accountants) Core Values as your guide, you’ll be able to deal with conflict professionally and turn a culture of challenge into a competitive asset.

RESPECT FOR THE INDIVIDUAL

Always be respectful of the other person’s views, culture, and feedback. Listen carefully and empathetically and communicate your thoughts respectfully. Avoiding or ignoring conflict won’t resolve the issue, and being closed-minded will get you nowhere—in business or in life. Clear, honest, and respectful communication is key to understanding the situation and moving forward in a positive direction. In other words, artificial harmony at one extreme and personal attacks at the other aren’t respectful behaviors, even though one is passive and the other is aggressive.

HIGHEST STANDARDS OF INTEGRITY AND TRUST

 

In mitigating conflict, don’t discuss your issue with other employees; this breaks the trust between you and the other person. In sports, you choose the strongest coaches, doctors, and trainers to be on your team. You trust them to train you and tend to your injuries. If they turned to your opponent and discussed your strengths and weaknesses, it would break your trust. Instead, build trust among your team by facing conflict directly and communicating effectively and appropriately.

TEAMING TO ACHIEVE

At the end of the day, you must realize that you’re all on the same team, working toward the same goal. The best way to turn conflict into positive outcomes is by dealing with it professionally, accepting constructive criticism, and working together to ensure that future challenges can be rectified. This is what embracing a culture of challenge is all about: respect, trust, and a focus on outcomes that enrich your organization in serving its mission.

Now that you can manage conflict effectively as a leader, empower your team to succeed by encouraging innovation, constant feedback, and constructive contention. Conflict will always arise in ever-changing business environments like the management accounting profession. But dealing with conflict head on and with respect will push your organization ahead of the competition.


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Jeffrey C. Thomson, CMA, CAE, is IMA president and CEO. He also is a member of IMA’s Bergen-Rockland-Meadowlands Chapter. You can reach Jeff at jthomson@imanet.org or follow him on Twitter: @IMA_JeffThomson.
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