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Why Gratitude is a Better Strategy for Conflict Than Avoidance

Resolving conflict is tough—especially in the workplace. Why? I’m not sure, because we spend more time with our colleagues than we do our loved ones, yet it feels noticeably harder when it happens at the office. You’d think we’d have a much stronger foundation from which to work through difficulties.

What I can say is that, for me, conflict is challenging for these reasons: The first is that we’re disappointed by the encounter because it tends to catch us on our heels when we’re not ready for it. The second is that, unlike other challenges, there’s rarely a way around it other than through it because another party is involved, especially if your desired outcomes are linked.

Unfortunately, many think avoidance is a strategy, but not dealing with the conflict can actually create more anxiety. It’s a short-term solution that comes at a heavy cost because waiting to work through something typically festers in our minds, making reality seem worse than it is.

In a report by Korn Ferry, there are five leadership skills that rise above all the others if you want to keep your competitive edge sharp, and one of them comes as no surprise: the ability to resolve conflict. They say that “competent leaders must not only promote a hospitable workplace but also address conflicts when they arise. The problem: Bosses themselves don’t think they’re very good at resolving them.”

Korn Ferry cited a survey of six hundred U.S. business leaders showing that nearly six out of ten leaders say that their weakest skills are in conflict management—and that it’s costly to their companies. Senior partner Anu Gupta adds, “Managing relationships with board members, peers, teams, suppliers, and customers is key to keeping productive capacity high.”

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It’s surprising to think that 60 percent of leaders are erring on the side of strategies such as avoidance in lieu of striking while the event is fresh and doesn’t have time to do further damage. In short, unchecked conflict costs money.

What conflict does have in common with other workplace challenges is that it’s a setback like any other. We all experience them in work and in life—some of them huge, others not so much. Depending on what’s at stake, like company productivity or the outcome of a personal goal, it’s about handling them with qualities such as honesty, humility, and heart—what I often refer to as the 3H-Core.

An ingredient that I’ve begun to add to this blend of positive leadership influence is gratitude. My upcoming Off the Rak guest Stacy Lewis comes to mind. For six and a half years, Lewis wore a back brace for eighteen hours a day in response to a scoliosis diagnosis when she was eleven years old. Lewis thought her dream of becoming a professional golfer was over.

What came out of her constant stream of disappointments after hearing her doctors say “three more months … four more months …” until the months became years was incredible gratitude when she was finally free of her recovery.

Tune into my next episode of Off the Rak to learn more about how gratitude fueled Lewis’s resilience to countless setbacks and how we can better channel our appreciation to embrace our own setbacks with a forgiving mindset.

Consider asking yourself “What if I approached my next conflict with a grateful heart? What would that look like, and how might my appreciation for what’s in the “good column” dismantle the disappointment and anxiety between me and the other person?” Professional cyclist Kristin Armstrong captures the essence of these questions in this quote: “When we focus on our gratitude, the tide of disappointment goes out, and the tide of love rushes in.”

Conflict is a natural part of life and work and a setback that gives leaders an opportunity to show resilience and their human side. Rather than engage in your next resolution with disappointment or trepidation, think about what you’re grateful for in the relationship. Before you know it, the tide of worry will roll out so a new wave of optimism can take its place.

Stacy Lewis Joins Off the Rak on March 21, 12PM EST

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