As leaders, building trust through conflict

How to build trust as a leader

Human beings are hard-wired to protect themselves when they feel unsafe. This thinking helped our early ancestors to stay alive when confronted by wild animals or enemy tribes.

In modern society, this hard wiring is problematic because it continues to guide us even when we aren’t in any physical danger. With something as simple as being called into the bosses’ office, we shouldn’t be afraid. We’re in no physical danger and most of the time their intentions are more positive than negative. Yet when many people do get the call, anxiety levels rise and cause issues.

Sometimes employees hide problems because they don’t want to get into trouble. They don’t want to deal with that level of anxiety and so they would rather cover up their mistakes. Showing your employees that they can trust you, can take the anxiety out of the situation and eliminate this behaviour. But how do you prove to your staff that they can trust you? By using EPR (Empathic Listening, Parroting and Reward) to solve conflict.

In conflict situations, most people start the discussion by explaining their side to the other person. The mistaken belief is that if you can convince the other person to see your side of the story, there’ll be no more conflict. However, this actually tells the other person, “I don’t care what you think.” This way is dismissive and solves nothing. Thankfully, there is a better way, with EPR.

Empathic Listening

All leaders should begin every conflict discussion with Empathic Listening. Empathic Listening tells the employee that you want to hear their side of the story, instead of explaining yours. To begin, say something along the lines of, “I know there’s an issue and I want to understand where you are coming from. I also want to make sure we’re both happy with the resolution.” Then, genuinely focus on what the employee is saying.


The next step is Parroting back what the employee said—to their satisfaction. Parroting ensures that you did actually engage in Empathic Listening and creates a common understanding between the two of you. With Parroting, you reiterate what the employee said. If the employee disagrees, then you know you misunderstood them. You listen again and continue this step until they agree that you restated their position to their satisfaction.


The final step in the EPR process is giving the employee a Reward. The Reward only occurs when you disagree with them. When you both agree, the agreement is enough and a Reward is unnecessary. What then, is this reward? Validation of their point of view. It looks something like, “I see what you are saying, but I also think…” or “I understand where you are coming from, but what about…”. In this way, you protect the employees self-esteem and their right to their opinions, while also disagreeing with them.

EPR works to build trust through conflict and resolution. Your employees learn that there is a safe space to disagree with you and have their own opinions. But they also learn they can trust you to work through any problems with them.

Enhance your leadership development skills with courses at Odyssey Training. 

Our mission is to help emerging and frontline managers achieve positive, long-term behavioral change for themselves and their teams. Leaders with advanced emotional intelligence have a head start in their lives and careers. They inspire passion and enthusiasm, take action to solve problems, and cope better with change and stress.

To become a better leader you need to improve your emotional intelligence over time to becoming more self-aware, manage your emotions more effectively, be more socially aware and show empathy to others. Discover our 1 day Inner Management course, enhance your understanding of self and how this impacts your business relationships and personal relationships. Learn strategies to fine tune your inner management and strengthen your emotional intelligence.