We need a new kind of leadership that acknowledges dealing with conflict and difference as a central goal.
We need the leader as mediator to be able to:
- Improve increasingly diverse workplaces that are under global pressures to perform.
- Restore civility and collaboration in fractured communities and neighbourhoods.
- Re-energise the respect and vitality of our schools.
- Bring compassion back to the core of our health care systems.
- Foster a more policy-based, less personality-based political discourse.
- Generate a more open, curious and inclusive attitude toward difference more generally.
- Make Time Your Ally - You often have more time than you think before you need to respond. Consider the possibility of reflection before action. If you calmly choose when to speak and act, it is far less likely that you will regret it later.
- Breathe and Protect Yourself - Pay attention to your breathing, making sure it is deep and slow. This oxygenates the brain and keeps adrenaline and blood pressure low. After 10 such breaths, you can trust yourself to speak your truth in a way that will serve your genuine purpose.
- Determine Your Goal and Focus on It - Ask yourself, "why am I in this conflict in the first place?" "Do I need to sustain this relationship, and if so, why?" Decide what your ultimate goal is to prevent yourself from getting lost in the heat of the moment.
- Speak to Who Is Present - Your adversary may be the one in front of you, but they may not be. If the person who needs to hear your frustration, anger, or other emotion is not there, triggering an avalanche of feelings upon whoever happens to be present at the time would be a serious mistake.
- Beware of Self-Righteousness - Arrogance is a characteristic of leaders who see only their own good qualities and only the bad qualities of their adversary. Good and evil are rarely so conveniently distributed. To be a successful leader, you need to do just the opposite: recognise the virtues of humility.
- Keep Your Shadow in Front of You - If you want your adversary to take responsibility for their part of the conflict, then you had better take responsibility for yours. Know the difference between your feelings being caused by the current conflict and those that have been hiding inside you for a long time. The latter is your shadow.
- Listen to Everything, but Respond Selectively - You need to listen to what others are saying, but you are free to address whatever you want. If you know your goal and you stay focused on it, you may choose to focus on the substance and not respond (for the moment) to the "under the belt" blows.
- First Inquire, Then Fire - You may think you (or your adversary) knows "the facts" of the situation. But it's worth a question or two to determine if that is so. Make sure that what you say is accurate. Once you make wild statements based on faulty information, you will have squandered at least some of your credibility.
- Take Stock Before You Take Sides - Before you takes sides, reflect on the richness of your own inner contradictions. You need to hold a paradox, not cut it in half. You are far more likely to heal conflict if you listen to your own doubts, attend to your own questions, and admit your own confusion.
- Listen More, Speak Less - When conflict breaks out, tempers flare and voices rise. If you listen more patiently and compassionately, you are less likely to regret saying something in haste. By listening, you will be wiser about when to speak, and your words will be more highly valued.
- Learn Your Adversary's "Language" - Don't presume that everybody - even within your own linguistic group - speaks your language. Learn to speak the language of the people you want to reach. This means being multilingual with your heart and mind, not just your tongue.
- Let Your Adversary Know You - In the heat of the moment, you may not be able to research your adversary on the spot. But you can, if you have the courage, let your adversary know more about you. If you hide who you are, your adversary may misjudge you. Just as you need to know your adversary, they need to know you. And that means both of you must reveal yourselves.