First to Boil? Strategies to Manage Conflict

Some days I have to remind myself to be a big pot instead of a small pot. In fact, in a perfect world I’d be the pot you make gumbo in, but truthfully I’m still working on myself. You see, when I am face to face with conflict I remind myself that it is the small pot that boils first and my goal is to never be the smaller pot in a situation. It’s amazing that such a simple culinary concept can have so much meaning, but for me, this has been a guide in how I navigate conflict.

As a young professional I remember noticing that the leaders around me were not characterized by the ways in which they handled success, but instead, how they handled conflict. This was, and still is, especially true for professionals from marginalized identities. It’s always bothered me to think that my brand, which is so deeply rooted in hard work and excellence, could be tarnished by other’s perceptions, even when I’m on the right side of the conflict. While I’m no expert on conflict resolution, I believe that the following strategies have added depth to my personal and professional approach to conflict.

  1. Always anticipate conflict. Some may consider this pessimistic, but one thing I know for sure is that people are not good communicators and people thrive on conflict. If you always anticipate conflict, you won’t be as rattled by it. Even when we try our best, it is sometimes unavoidable.
  2. Always have a strategy. Each of us have different go-to plans to resolve conflict. My strategy is to collect as much information before confronting the issue which expedites the resolution process. It has also helped me correct processes to avoid future conflict.
  3. Remove personal feelings. I fully recognize that sometimes conflict is personal, but I also try to remember that in general people are good, they have good intentions, and this is a learning opportunity for us all. Remember 50% of any relationship is 100% you. Make sure your portion models the way.
  4. Think win-win. I try to remind myself that collectively we are typically attempting to achieve a win for our organization, the people we serve, and our overall purpose. If this doesn’t work, just focus on trying to prove that kindness and conflict with civility still exist and can work.
  5. Get the grade. It may sound silly, but these moments in life are tests and only you know if you’ve passed or made satisfactory progress. Even when the world thinks you have it together, you know your heart and mind. Always take time to reflect and assess your progress.

When I reflect on the times I’ve been frustrated or annoyed I often laugh at how silly those situations now seem. I know we’re all working on becoming better versions of ourselves, but think back to a recent conflict you experienced. Were you a small pot or big one?

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