When it comes to conflict, there are hills to die on, hills to bleed on, and hills not worth climbing. Knowing what the best battles are and how to fight them is an essential leadership skill.
Marine Corps boot camp includes a segment on combat hitting skills. I’ll never forget my experience with the boxing aspect of this segment. Recruits were lined up with their back to a small ring designed to simulate hand-to-hand combat in a ravine. One of the times I entered the ring, I was matched against a guy who was by all accounts superhuman. It appeared he had worked out since he was 5 years old, was foaming at the mouth, and beyond ready to throw down (I was too, until I saw him). Since we were promised a phone call home if we broke our opponents nose, I knew he was ready to do some damage. I did what any wise Marine Corps recruit would do in this situation: played excellent defense. I had no shame in dodging, ducking, and covering up. This was not a hill for me to die on, or bleed on. It was not worth climbing, I would have never made it.
Conflict is inevitable. Some of you are wired to fight and some of you are wired for flight. Regardless of what end of the continuum you find yourself on, the more important issue is discerning whether or not it is a hill to die on, hill to bleed on, or hill not worth climbing. Here are two questions that will help you discern whether or not, and how to engage the conflict:
Is this healthy or unhealthy conflict?
Healthy conflict is most often task and goal oriented. There is nothing like a unified group of people fighting it out over the best next steps for the team or organization to take. Healthy conflict will create energy and propel you forward. Unhealthy conflict is usually people oriented and is rooted in selfishness, gossip, or misunderstanding — usually a personality misunderstanding or something that was said the wrong way. If it’s healthy conflict about a goal, priority, or something that could benefit the other person, team, or organization, charge the hill! Fight for the highest possible good. If not, here is the second question you need to ask:
Is this something I need to throw out, talk out, or work out?
When there’s conflict, it’s not always about a fight or flight response. There are options. If it’s not mission critical or destructive, and it’s just annoying to you, throw it out!
Sometimes, though, you need to talk it out: Find a neutral person and get their perspective on whether the hill you’re climbing is really worth it. Perhaps you are wrong about the issue and you need to move on. Or, perhaps it really is a hill to bleed or die on. When you’ve avoided it long enough, or it’s a constant issue, it’s time to go work it out! If the person is not doing their job, or they are late, rude, unfocused, undisciplined, manipulative, political, closed communicators (the list goes on), it is time to fight for the highest possible good of the team. Calling it out is the first step toward fighting the best fight and resolving the conflict.
If you’re not fighting right now, you’re maintaining or dying. What problems in your life, family, team, or organization need addressing?