Having the Courage to Face Conflict Constructively

Marlene Chism is the leading authority on identifying and stopping workplace drama that hampers productivity, and she is known for helping leaders get results through others. As an advanced practitioner in narrative coaching, Marlene works with leaders to start conversations that address the elephant in the room to get results, drive growth and reduce costly mistakes. She has produced five educational video series on topics like anger management, working with high conflict people and having difficult conversations. She has also written five books, including her most recent, From Conflict to Courage: How to Stop Avoiding and Start Leading.

With conflict on so many fronts today, Marlene’s new book speaks to everyone, whether they perceive themselves as leaders or not. Developing a capacity to deal with conflict in our “us versus them” world can help all of us at the workplace, at home, on social media, and everywhere else that we need to develop positive relationships to navigate our world. And she addresses that theme in a universal language that helps the reader look at conflict as a teacher – with an opportunity to learn what we and others want, and how to get that by having the courage to confront conflict rather than avoid it.

Making the Identity Shift from Good Employee to Manager

Marlene says that “it’s just very rare that leaders get the training to be a leader.” They become leaders because of seniority, or because they were good at their job or great at sales. What happens when they become managers is they are rarely given the training to do that job, and since they are accustomed to winning and being successful, they feel insecure about going to their manager to ask for help. She says that a mentor in their field would be an even better resource for new leaders – someone to support them, listen to their issues and provide the voice of experience. Unfortunately, Marlene says that communication between levels of an organization is frequently non-existent.

Mismanaging Conflict: Avoiding, Appeasing, Aggression

Marlene says that in From Conflict to Courage, she lists three ways leaders mismanage conflict: avoiding, appeasing and aggression. She gives an example of moving an employee to another area to separate him/her from the conflict. Instead of dealing with the problem, she says, “those people feel disenfranchised,” which can cause “all kinds of political issues. It creates a lack of inclusion and creates something that it wasn’t intended to create.” Marlene says that the problem isn’t actually the conflict. “The problem is people don’t have the capacity to deal with it.”

Everyone was raised to handle their inner turmoil differently. So Marlene says that managers can’t be effective leaders unless they overcome some of that. Also, we have to change our definition of conflict. Marlene says that conflict means different things to different people: divorce, losing your job, politics, and there are fears around what conflict has always been: wars, fighting, disharmony. She says that early in the book she offers a different definition and diagrams it with arrows facing in opposite directions to change the definition to one of opposing drives, desires and demands. Instead of thinking about the other person as evil or having a malicious intent, Marlene says to get curious about what their demands and drives are, because once you know that, you might find that you’re on the same page after all.

From Factory Floor to Gifted Speaker, Author, and Consultant

Marlene has an inspiring story of how she emerged from being a blue-collar factory worker to a sought-after speaker without any understanding of how to begin. Listen to or watch this conversation to hear the steps of her journey and learn more about her new book, From Conflict to Courage: How to Stop Avoiding and Start Leading, which is also available as an audiobook on Audible. Check out her website, marlenechism.com, and you can reach out to her there, or on LinkedIn.

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