What if I told you that having conflict IS the path to getting what you need AND strengthening your relationship with your foe? True…the path is just different than you may have ever experienced.

Most of us have a “go to” conflict style. The Thomas-Kilmann Conflict Modes are a good illustration:


The modes themselves are not good or bad. Each style can be the best choice depending on the situation. The pitfall as a leader is to be a one trick pony.

While not scientific, a quick gut check will tell you your default style. Do you:

  • Come out guns blazing every time, competing to win?
  • Avoid getting involved until things explode?
  • Jump in and mediate, always looking for the middle ground/ compromises?
  • Make relationships more important than results and give in/ accommodate?

If you’re a leader who has learned the art and science of conflict, you may be among the small minority who are able to deftly handle collaborative conflict.

So far in this life, I am best at competing, avoiding, compromising and accommodating. So I plunked myself in Collaboration School to get better at collaborative conflict.

Collaborative School is a conflict boot camp of sorts. It’s a pilot program and the brainchild of Kirstin Lund. She’s a former lawyer and current mediator, facilitator, and leadership developer.

Like so many things in leadership and adult development, Collaboration School is really hard AND really good. Kirstin helps her students shift from high anxiety about conflict to comfort and confidence. She does this by coaching them (me!) on a real practice case. That is what makes it hard and good.

Kirstin told me a story about two warring managers she helped. At the outset, they were locked into opposing positions and could not stand being in the same room together. Trust was nonexistent. She worked with them individually to uncover their interests– their needs, hopes and values. When she told each of them individually that their list of interests was so shockingly similar that they were almost interchangeable, a shift started to happen. Within the first five minutes of a joint meeting, the long time enemies were making big plans on how to work together with excitement and huge relief. They had realized each other’s humanity and focused on their shared interests. The rift between them fell away. Kirstin did high fives all the way home.

Of all the hard and soft skills we need as leaders, our ability to engage in productive conflict stands out as one that we ignore at our peril. I can certainly help my clients a fair amount during coaching. Kirstin is the expert I will now consult with my own clients when the stakes are so high we need to bring in a master!

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Pilot #2 starts on May 9th.   Students benefit from a low cost and lots of 1:1 support from Kirstin as she polishes her program for a full launch later this year.


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