When the Chimes Stop Ringing: Conflict Mastery Lessons for Leaders

Conflict, while many want to avoid it, is a naturally occurring phenomenon that creates beauty in the natural world and innovation in our human world.

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The lovely melody of chimes ringing outside my window is one of those small yet valued pleasures I really enjoy. Last year due to some construction, I relocated my chimes from their anchor at the corner of my home to a branch in the yard.

Seasons changed, time crept by and I realized the chimes had stopped ringing. That lovely melody was gone. However, I didn't immediately correct the situation. It reminds me a bit of what many of us have experienced during these last two years. Sometimes things change and we don't even notice. For me, action happened when a storm blew those chimes off the branch into a heap on the ground. From a distance, I thought the heap was a dead animal.

What does this have to do with leadership, teams and conflict mastery? Plenty!

Conflict, while many want to avoid it, is a naturally occurring phenomenon that creates beauty in the natural world and innovation in our human world.

The reason my chimes quit ringing is I took away the conflict.

The branch I hung them on was too springy. As it turns out, chimes require a solid anchor or they can't possibly make a sound because all the parts are moving together but don't touch, at least not enough to make an audible sound. The springy branch moved with all the parts.

In this time of rapid change and the transition to more virtual relationships, let's explore the insights leaders can learn from the beautiful melody of chimes.

Chimes need an anchor. A leader (or anyone) without an anchor makes engagement with others almost impossible. Just like that chime, that springy branch moved about the same rate as the striker and tubes, so they didn't collide to make a sound. For leaders, in times of rapid change and uncertainty, their only anchor may be their internal strength of values, purpose and spirit. External anchors are subject to change or may disappear completely. It's the inner anchor that sustains us and allows us to be present to connect.

How do you, as a leader, nurture and grow your inner anchor? I believe it is no longer a luxury but an essential survival skill to have an inner anchor, or what I call in my practice "center." This is an internal focusing process we do to create balance, calm and personal strength. It is our method for becoming the calm eye in the storm of life. Without a strong center, the slightest breeze has you blowing in the wind without meaningful impact.

Chimes need the striker and the tubes to connect to make a melody. A leader without the ability to truly connect to others doesn't create or innovate. While that may seem obvious, it bears pointing out. As relationships become increasingly virtual, it can be difficult to create that melody because of a lack of in-person connection and the need to be tolerant and accommodating to people's living situations. This may even happen without your awareness because it's not always obvious, or it happens so slowly that it eventually gains acceptance.

When we first started working from home, it was fun to meet the kids, dogs and cats. Yet when letting the dog out and getting the kids refocused becomes a normalized interruption, that's when others can start withdrawing and getting resentful. The ability to have respectful conversations that set boundaries without alienating others becomes an essential skill. It may be awkward, but it's not fair to let those chimes blow freely without striking the tubes. Left on that springy, boundaryless limb, it can eventually fall in a heap.

Others can take fake virtual presence to an art form. I've heard of people creating looping videos of themselves looking like they are present. Leaders, if you create live eye-to-eye connection, you actually connect and make those chimes ring. Being comfortable, or at least willing to be on a video, is now a skill that must be required.

The chimes need to be unobstructed. To create, there must be freedom of expression. If you hold the chime tube with your hand and strike it, the sound is discordant. The same is true if a leader is too controlling — discord happens.

Many organizations are finding their employees now want the new freedom of working virtually. When they want to bring everyone back to the office, there have been revolts against this 'obstruction.'

The chimes have to be arranged in a balanced way for the best melody. Is your team or organization creating beautiful melodies? If not, it's probably time to improve your conflict skills. Like the chime, the conflict created by free expression with appropriate boundaries is productive and beautiful; the conflict created when there is too much control or obstruction is discordant and not sustainable; when there is no conflict due to a lack of boundaries or anchor, nothing is created. Instead, it becomes a heap after a strong storm.

While we can program a chime melody on our phone, it doesn't replace the value of live, natural chimes colliding in the wind to create a melody – yielding just the right conflict.

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