I will frankly admit that I can easily slide into many immature behaviors that may hinder my relationship with employees and clients. I still teach and practice Kung Fu. I have competed against tough opponents for decades. I am a fighter at heart. I know how to wait, watch for an opening, then attack with all my focused energy. So when I find myself in interpersonal conflict, I have to consciously resist my instinct to attack. I remind myself to wait and think and remember that I can’t control the other person’s thoughts, feelings, beliefs, and behavior. The only thing I can control is my own emotions. Then I ask myself three questions:

  1. What did I do—in the way I spoke or the way I reacted emotionally—to incite a negative response?
  2. What can I own in reference to the conflict?
  3. What can I do to defuse the conflict?

And once I’ve considered these three questions, I do not attack, nor do I withdraw; instead I engage and look to build bridges of trust and respect.

The mature leader keeps the Kryptonite tightly locked in a lead-lined box. He or she will guard against any emotional outbursts and begin a constructive, caring dialogue, working to develop others into purpose partners. Emotional maturity pictures two people who had been sitting at opposite ends of a table moving the table aside and sitting down together side-by-side.

The mature person possesses the humility to ask the other person to show them their blind spots. So dialogue might go something like this:

John: “Bill, clearly there’s a rift in this conversation we’re having. I take full responsibility for my part in creating this tension. I value our relationship a great deal and I don’t want to create any barriers of mistrust or misunderstanding. Please help me understand how I have devalued, disrespected, or irritated you. I hope you’ll speak the truth in love to me, but please speak the truth!”

It’s essential that John be sincere and must not be applying a technique intended to manipulate Bill into surrendering to John’s way of thinking. John’s goal must be to earn Bill’s trust and respect and move him from an adversarial position into collaborative advocacy. He is saying, “Help me mend any erosion of trust and be a better friend to you. Teach me, Bill. Show me what I’ve done to create tension in our relationship. Educate me about the areas where I need to improve.”

If an exchange is growing heated, the mature person works through an internal reasoning process that would sound very much like this:

I recognize that I’m getting angry. Why? Am I part of the problem here? Am I angry because this person is pushing an emotional hot button in my psyche that carries old baggage? If so, I have to be careful; I can easily move into devaluing, disrespecting, and dishonoring. Those are my natural defense mechanisms: to go on the attack or to go emotionally absent.

Build bridges, do not burn them. Building relationships with your employees and clients is the most essential skill you can have. Remember to be honest and humble with yourself and keep in mind that there may be multiple parties at fault including you. Your clients and employees will be very pleased with your honesty and your relationship will be stronger because of it.