The Anti-Antagonist: Conflict and Resonance
By: Ann L. Begler
We often think of the concept of leadership as something relevant and critical for CEO’s, Executive Directors, high level managers or key staff members within businesses and organizations. We don’t always think of mediators, HR interveners or other conflict resolvers as essential leaders. Yet, as I’ve deepened my own understanding of resonance as a characteristic of a great leader, it’s become apparent that this essential element of resonance is also one of the things carried by great conflict managers.
Richard Boyatzis and Annie McKee, in their acclaimed book, Resonant Leadership (Harvard Business School Publishing, 2005) point out that resonant leaders move people – powerfully, passionately, and purposefully (Boyatzis and McKee 31). In many ways, that’s exactly what a great conflict resolver does …
How is it then that great leaders, or great conflict resolvers, manage to live in a resonant way? What is it that keeps them from falling into dissonance and despair? Again, Boyatzis and McKee offer research-based guidance, informing us that resonant leaders embody three vital traits: mindfulness, hope and compassion.
For those of us who work with conflict as part of our everyday work, those same traits – mindfulness, hope and compassion – are the things that are the essential ingredients we need to do this hard work over and over. And, they are the qualities that transfer to our clients as our clients struggle to overcome their inability to begin to vision days when the conflict will no longer exist.
As mediators we must be self-reflective. We must ask, with frequency, shuffling between what we observe and what we experience, what the next thing is we might do to support people to move on. We have to be clear not to let the issues that get triggered for us get in the way of our work. We need not only to observe when our clients can go no further in a session, we are in constant need of paying attention to our own energy and our own fatigue. We strive to ask open-ended questions, to be curious about how people are forming options for resolution and we strive to help people be interested in the experience of the other person. This work requires the constancy of mindfulness before sessions, during sessions and after sessions.
Likewise, hope is another emotion we keep ever present during our work in resolving conflicts. People who come to us for help often struggle to have any sense of hope. They’ve lost an ability to see a future that’s better, brighter and more whole. What we’re able to impart is our experience of seeing others reach different places. We provide structure, clear communication, small steps of success that, over time, build hope in our clients. We’re often cheerleaders who give the rah rah of what’s possible. We can’t just tell our clients about the possible, we have to actually believe in it.
Finally, as conflict resolvers, when we’re doing our work at our best we embody incredible compassion. We extend that compassion to the participants and to people in our client’s lives. We express compassion about the situation. When we find ourselves struggling, not sure where to go or what to do, we offer compassion to ourselves. When we model compassion we help our clients see and experience the compassion inside of them, and their ability for compassionate interaction takes them closer to resolutions.
I’ve come to think of myself as having the responsibility to be a Resonant Leader in the work I do. That means I have a responsibility to keep mindfulness active, hope vibrant and compassion, ever- present. This is the fire we need to keep alive inside of us and the embers we’re then able to pass on to others.
The Anti-Antagonist is a personal opinion column by Ann L. Begler, founder and principal of the Begler Group, a Pittsburgh firm providing services in mediation, advanced facilitation, conflict coaching and organizational development. You can e-mail Ann via Ipso Facto.