An important aspect of being an officer, leader, or simply a successful person, is the realization that you don’t know what you don’t know. But even if you’re someone who realizes there is a lot out there you don’t know about, you can still be surprised by just how much there is out there to be learned. I had one of these moments yesterday when I read Randy Keirn’s book, CROSSFire: Taking the Heat out of Conflict and realized I knew very little about properly conflict management.
I am relatively averse to conflict, but, as Chief Keirn says, “conflict is going to happen.” Especially for those of us in positions of authority, and especially for those of us in positions of authority that are younger than many of the people we are responsible for leading and managing. So, it’s imperative that we learn how to not only engage in but embrace conflict. This is a point the author makes early on in the book and illustrates throughout.
I first heard about CROSSFire on an episode of the Average Jake podcast but it wasn’t until we discussed it during my last guest spot that I finally picked it up. Chief Keirn’s book is short and sweet, an easy read coming in at about 100 pages in print. This is a big positive as it makes for a quick and engaging read without any fluff. Because it’s so short, I don’t want to get too into the weeds describing it and give too much away, I only want to urge you to buy and read this book as soon as possible and refer to it often.
The book opens well with an explanation of why conflict is actually good—if it’s handled in a positive and productive way—and why we shouldn’t shy away from it. Much like anything else, we grow as individuals and as teams through challenges and adversity and conflict is just another adversity. By engaging your people in the right way you help them to grow and get better, but yes, it may be uncomfortable at times, so is deadlifting 315lbs, but that’s how you get stronger.
“Be there to support the person and move them forward. Treat them with respect. Try to make them better. And you’ll all benefit in the long run.“
The first step to turning conflict into a positive, per Chief Keirn, is to know yourself and your triggers, or “hot buttons.”
“To be able to manage conflict, you first have to become aware of, and manage, your own reaction to it.”
The route one takes to get there is mindfulness; be mindful of your triggers and your reactions to them. From there choose to maintain a positive attitude and move forward. Breathe. Center yourself. Cool down and handle the situation, don’t let the situation handle you.
“Don’t own their conflict.”
This point is important. The author writes of not taking things personally or making things personal. View it from a lens that they’re giving your rank, not you, a hard time. Conversely, make sure you’re judging the behavior, not the person.
Another great point he makes is, “you are the officer, and what you permit you promote,” if you witness something and you question, even for a moment, if it’s appropriate or not, shut it down. Don’t turn away and ignore it, don’t question, just shut it down in a respectful and appropriate way. Sometimes it isn’t easy to do what’s right, but that’s why we’re here, to lead people down the right path, to set and uphold a standard.
Leading Through Conflict
I won’t get into Chief Keirn’s system for managing conflict as I want you to go read the book, but it is a simple to understand and easily adoptable system that enables you to lead and influence change by appropriately managing conflict.
“Managing conflict is one of the most important skills a leader can develop. When not handled well, conflict deteriorates relationships. When handled correctly, it builds relationships, which I believe is the core essence of leadership.”
Proper conflict management is a key component in leadership. Period. We’re here because we want to influence the future, to lead change, and we do that through building relationships with our people, including handling conflicts as they arise in a way that provides positive results.
”The people are the culture, and you influence a culture one person at a time.”
If you’re a leader, formal or informal, in your department or organization, do yourself a favor and devote the hour or so it takes to read this book and learn something you may not even have known you didn’t know—how to properly manage conflict. Make yourself better so you can make your team better, one person/one conflict at a time. Remember, even the Dude can’t always abide.