In my last blog we talked about how conflict serves as a strong catalyst for growth in teams and relationships of all sorts. Today we’re diving into the top 8 tactics for ensuring each conflict strengthens your relationships.  Here they are… 

1. Actively listen to your people. Nearly a decade ago I worked with the United States Navy. At the time they were bleeding junior officers. This was costing them in recruiting, training, and lost productivity. They needed to stop this drainage fast. Before they could fix their drainage problem, they needed to engage in crucial conversations to understand what was causing it. So, we took to the road, engaging thousands of sailors in an open conversation focused on what the Navy could do differently to retain them. What they heard wasn’t surprising (for the most part), but the outcome of their listening saved them millions in the end.

Reflection question: Are you hearing the actual fears, concerns, and challenges your employees are facing?

2. Seek to remedy the bigger issues and not just the symptoms.. After engaging in honest conversations about the problems sailors were facing, the Navy created a plan to address the bigger issues. Beyond simply seeking to retain junior officers, they focused on strengthening their culture, ultimately instituting paternity leave, along with a few other key initiatives. Their results were immediately felt not only in an increase in retention, but also lowered costs in recruitment. Sailors became increasingly involved in recruiting efforts. 

Reflection question: What are the underlying issues plaguing your organization and what results are you striving to achieve based on what you’re learning from your people? 

3. Know your boundaries. Asking, “What can the Navy do to retain you?” opens the floodgates for both gripping and helpful ideas. While airing frustrations certainly has its place, the key is to acknowledge the frustrations without getting tripped up in them. Clear boundaries for the conversation create psychological safety for everyone.   

Reflection question: Am I establishing clear boundaries for honest conversations, making sure all ideas are heard?  

4. Get out from behind your title and your desk. Had the Navy avoided talking about the real problems their sailors were having, come up with their own reasons for such low retention rates, and instituted their own solutions, they would have failed. The reason? People support the thing they help to create. Involve your team in clarifying the problem, coming up with solutions, and taking a lead in getting better results. 

Reflection question: Am I asking the right questions and reflecting back what I’m hearing to make sure I understood the problems and solutions? 

5. Manage your energy.  Energy is contagious; irritation breeds irritation. Even if you are down to your last nerve (and training dollar), be careful not to let this energy influence your decisions. Make sure you’re bringing openness, curiosity, and candor. Each one of those sailors who ultimately got inspired to participate in the solution were doing so because they were feeding off the vision and commitment of the leadership team tasked with this challenge. 

Reflection question: Are you clearing your mind, getting calm, and creating an internal space of openness and curiosity before entering difficult conversations so you can turn crucial conversations into the action and results you want?  

6. Ask for help. I am shocked by the number of leaders who fail to ask their team for help in getting better results. Most people want to be asked to step up. They also want to know you have their back, and that you’ll hold them accountable. Involve your team in identifying problems, searching for and weighing alternatives, making decisions, and implementing solutions.  

Reflection question: Am I asking my team for their help in clarifying the real problems, and solving them? 

7. Support without micromanaging. Your job is to address difficult conversations directly, to hear what they are saying, and inspire growth. You are offering them an opportunity to step up, gain opportunity, and get better results together. Do the thinking, do the work, have the conversations, empower them with the necessary resources, and then let the “how” go. The hardest part for many leaders is to get quiet, ask better questions, and let them come to their own resolutions. The tendency to fix the problem is luring. Trusting (believing in) them to find the answers is empowering.  

Reflection question: Am I trusting my team members to find their way to resolving issues and reaching results? Or, am I jumping in with answers?   

8. Lead by example. Just in case you think that you can hire people who are fully equipped to engage in tough conversations on your team without learning through your example—don’t. Your job as a leader is to show them how to respectfully engage in difficult conversations. You set the example through your tone, demeanor, and openness.   

Reflection question: What actions (or inactions) do I take in difficult conversations to ensure openness, transparency, humility, and personal accountability? 

Using Conflict As A Catalyst For Growth

Just nine months after setting the goal to stop the bleed of junior officers, the Navy successfully increased retention, decreased costly recruiting initiatives, increased employee morale, and strengthened their reputation in the marketplace, a cost-savings of at least 10% per hire. 

Businesses are built on human capital. It’s the greatest resource an organization has. The costs associated with avoiding these conversations are monumental and not worth the risk. So, invest in training and coaching to get your leadership team the skills they need. 

Highly innovative, collaborative, and productive teams know how to respectfully engage in tough conversations. Leaders with the tools, skills, and courage to address difficult situations, conversations, and people make it safe for their employees to talk about almost anything and are able to turn these critical conversations into action and results.

Here’s To Your Greatness, 

Misti Burmeister  

Misti Burmeister has been solving people problems and empowering leaders for nearly 20 years, increasing engagement and productivity across generations. Help your team reach its highest potential at