Last Updated Oct 15, 2008 9:00 AM EDT
As conflict goes, it was pretty lightweight stuff. I said one thing, he said another; so what? We never have to see each other or sit in the same room together. For all I know we're not even on the same continent.
It got me thinking. Bloggers can agree to disagree and readers can decide what resonates with them. But it's different in the corporate world. You have to work, travel, and sit in endless meetings together. And sometimes you even have to come to ... consensus. Sends a shiver down your spine, doesn't it?
It's tough for management teams. Sooner or later they have to agree on stuff, important stuff like operating plans, strategic goals, customer requirements, product specifications, marketing plans, budgets, channel strategy, hiring plans, layoff plans, it goes on and on.
I've worked with management teams that bickered about everything and couldn't agree on anything. I've worked with CEOs who acted out their childhood dramas on everybody, passive aggressive managers who said one thing and did exactly the opposite, and back-stabbers who had it in for me since day one. And I was no angel either, that's for sure.
Management teams are a veritable Petri dish for conflict. It makes you wonder how anything gets done at all. Really.
But guess what? After decades of pain and agony, I've actually learned a few effective ways of resolving conflict. They're guaranteed to work. No kidding.
Five ways for managers to resolve conflict
- Embrace conflict. Conflict isn't necessarily a bad thing. If it's open and direct, it helps in dealing with issues and building consensus. Intel's famous for having a culture that embraces conflict called "constructive confrontation" and a useful tool called "disagree and commit."
- Challenge your own assumptions. I had a CEO who used to say that conflict is the result of people making different assumptions. Ask yourself what assumptions your position is based on, then do the same with the other person. Perhaps she has experience different from yours that might change your perspective.
- Focus on the issues, not the person. When you criticize or attack someone personally you burn bridges you may never be able to repair. Stop whining and get over yourself. Focus on the real issues - technology, products, customers - you know, what the company's actually paying you to do.
- Put yourself in the other person's shoes. Remember, he's human too. Ask for his viewpoint and test your listening skills by articulating it back to him. Then try to get him to do the same in reverse. It's an age-old technique that works in negotiations, too.
- Be open and honest. I can't overstate this point. Much conflict comes from long-standing issues that build up over time. Since they're never brought to the fore, they never heal and leak out in all your interactions with that person. Meet one-on-one and air it out. She probably feels the same way you do.
The ability to drive consensus among diverse executives with unique perspectives and opinions is a serious leadership skill that'll facilitate your climb up the corporate ladder, assuming that's where you want to go. Happy climbing.