Dealing with Conflict

I believe that dealing with conflict is an extremely important ability for a creative person to have, especially if you're in charge of any number of people. I learned this lesson thoroughly when I produced a four-week run of the 24 Hour Plays in Chicago a few years ago. Over the course of the month, I dealt with over 120 different people who had varying personalities, skills and tempers. That was a huge amount of people for me, but if you're a film director or a similar ringleader-type profession, you may have to deal with even more people on a day-to-day basis. There are a few tricks to dealing with conflict that I've learned that have helped me to cope in such tense environments.

1. The Quickest Solution Isn't Always the Best

Because you never know the entire story, you can't jump to conclusions when you're in charge. If it seems like one person is being a troublemaker, it might give you a bad reputation to immediately jettison the person. This could give you trouble in future conflicts down the line. It's best to go for the most difficult decision possible, which is the "win-win" decision. Try to find a way that makes both parties happy. If you can't think of one, think harder, because there's almost always a way to appease everybody in a small conflict.

2. Keep Your Emotions Out of It

Stephen Covey talks about the gap between stimulus and response, which is the amount of time you have for your logic to kick in before your emotions take over. If you practice widening that gap, giving you more time to think before you act, you will be more effective in dealing with conflict. If you find yourself getting mad at one side in the conflict, you may end up on the wrong side of a bad situation. It's better not to choose a side with your emotions and to let your logic dictate a potential win-win scenario. After taking care of a situation during the 24 Hour Plays without using my emotions, I received this conflict, "I'm impressed with how you handled that. Personally, I would've killed him." If that's the kind of response you receive, you're doing it right.

3. If Shit Hits the Fan: Act

I once directed a short film in which one of my producers got into an argument with the owner of the space we were shooting at. I assumed he could deal with the conflict himself but due to heated emotions and a lack of a win-win situation, the owner was ready to shut down our production. The only way to deal with a situation that had gotten this bad was to act. I walked into the room with the surly owner, made a deal with him for a certain amount of money, looked him the eyes, shook his hand and gave him the check. It was an expensive solution, but with nearly 20 paid crew members and 10 friendly but free actors waiting to get into the space, I needed to act. Perhaps I could have thought of a better solution if I had more time, but in this case, there wasn't enough time to find it. If you're going to be screwed in a hurry without a solution, pick one and run with it.

Dealing with conflict isn't always pretty but when you put together a group of wonderful artistic minds, you're bound to hit one every so often. If you can keep your emotions at bay, brainstorm to come up with the best possible solution and act when it's completely necessary, you'll be a pro at leading a creative project in no time.

Done with Dealing with Conflict? Go back to Personal Time Management.

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