I previously wrote about Picard-style leadership, where the captain provides no answers and instead creates an empowered team through questions. Now I realize the same principle applies to conflict resolution.

As a brief recap, Picard-style is powerful because the leader refuses to provide answers. If the leader sometimes provides answers, then the team is incentivized to get better at prying answers from the leader. Then they don’t risk being embarrassed when their idea conflicts with leader or feeling like it was pointless to offer an idea when the leader had one in mind anyway. Refusing to provide answers makes it safer (and necessary) for employees to bring forward their ideas. It also makes it easier for the leader to credit team members and build their confidence.

I was resolving a conflict between two children when I realized the same principle applies to conflict resolution.

If the leader intervenes in employee conflicts, then the incentive is for the employees to escalate their concerns and find ways for the leader to notice and resolve conflicts in their favor. The trend is toward the leader spending more and more time resolving conflicts (or to employees trying to circumvent the leader if they feel the leader doesn’t favor them). The system can’t function without the leader.

If the leader does not solve conflicts, but instead focuses on facilitating communication and solution ideation, then it creates a stable equallibrium. Increasingly, the employees build their skills for communicating and resolving conflicts between themselves. They don’t need to escalate to the leader in many situations because they can talk it out together, which is what the leader will make them do anyway. Overall, the system can work without the leader and the leader is required for less conflict resolution over time.

This approach fits really well with Never Split the Difference-style techniques. Labeling and open-ended questions help the parties identify and communicate their feelings, desires, and ideas without solving anything for them. These techniques also help people feel heard, which improves emotional regulation and critical thinking. The leader can provide the listening neither side is ready to give the other, which gets them to a place they can work out their problem together.

I don’t think the leader can get away with never resolving conflicts though. Serious infractions still demand intervention (e.g. kids with sharp things at risk of hitting each other). But I imagine a skilled leader could resolve the bulk of conflicts through mediation.

I can’t claim much backing for this assertion about the stability of conflict resolution strategies, but it seems to align with my experiences and topics I know have been researched (like Never Split the Difference). Picard-style conflict resolution is a framework I at least plan to keep in mind as I keep exploring.