The Conflict Compass

The only thing worse than having conflict is having no conflict.

Conflict is a normal and necessary part of life. It can be uncomfortable, but it’s also an opportunity for growth. Unfortunately, many leaders avoid conflict at all costs. They believe that everything will eventually go away if they just sweep things under the rug. This couldn’t be further from the truth. In fact, not dealing with conflict can actually make things much worse in the long run.

Leadership author Thomas Isgar wisely said, “Conflict can destroy a team which hasn’t spent time learning to deal with it.” When we learn how to deal with conflict, we can turn it into a very healthy tool for relationship building, innovation, and growth. However, if we avoid conflict while ignoring how to handle it, we limit relationships, innovation, and ultimately growth.

One of the first steps in creating a healthy culture of conflict is to simply talk about how you and your team will handle conflict before you even experience it. Laying out a framework and working together to create a shared response to conflict can give a team the ground rules before the challenges arise. Unfortunately, most teams do not spend enough time setting behavioral expectations for conflict resolution as a team. The problem with not discussing how you and your team will handle conflict is that everyone will deal with it in their own way, which is a recipe for personality chaos. The aggressive type will lean towards destructive domineering, claiming they are telling you like it is. The passive type will lean towards artificial harmony, hiding behind a fake smile and avoiding honesty. As a result, your organization will be a war-torn battlefield where only a few survive, and none thrive.

When a team is equipped with a compass to help them navigate conflict, they will be aligned for success. So, spend time building your team’s conflict compass with open conversation, strategies, and values that everyone will be accountable to.

As a leadership coach for over twenty years, I have helped many teams develop their conflict compass and will leave you with just one statement/tool that I believe every team should adopt and practice. If you want to create a healthy conflict culture, everyone on the team must commit to being BOLD enough to say it and HUMBLE enough to receive it. This means everyone has to have the courage and honesty to say how they feel. But, at the same time, everyone also has to have the humility and openness to hear others’ feelings without arrogance and defensiveness. Teamwork will truly be activated when a team is bold enough to say it and humble enough to receive it.

So, what are you going to do to build your team’s conflict compass?

If this has been helpful I would love to invite you to subspace to my leadership blog at where you will get a new leadership tip, insight, and inspiration delivered to your inbox each Tuesday morning to help you grow as a leader.


John Barrett
Leadership Coach, Author, Speaker

John Barrett has been working with leaders for over twenty years. He’s the author of multiple books on leadership, and has been personally mentored by #1 leadership expert in the world, Dr. John C. Maxwell. John works with Fortune 500 companies, entrepreneurs, non-profits, and individuals who have leveled up their success through his coaching and guidance.

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