In a recent workshop, I got a question related to how conflict resolution with other leaders might be different from conflict resolution within the team you lead. In this episode, I'm addressing the answer to that question.
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Hi. This is Guy Harris. Welcome to Talk Like a Leader. This week's episode is titled Resolving Conflicts with Other Leaders in Your Organization. The origin of this podcast episode really comes from a workshop I was leading recently. And as we talked about communication skills for leaders, the general direction of the conversation was leader talking with members of the team.
They lead well towards the end of the workshop, A question came up, directed in a slightly different direction. It was in the context of conflict resolution and it was conflict resolution. With other leaders in the organization, more of a peer to peer conflict between different team leaders than as a leader navigating a conflict within your team or with a particular member of your team.
And the general concepts, as we talked about it, are basically the same with some qualifiers and caveats, because the nature of the relationship is different. The power dynamic is different, the organizational context is different. So there are a few things general principles, guiding concepts that are really the same, and then some subtleties that are specific to the situation of leader, the leader, the general concepts that are the same, really, regardless of the particular situation or the relationship dynamic, is that we want to approach the conflict conversation or the communication around the conflict, looking for some type of shared interest.
The place where we're likely going to find a resolution is where our interests are shared. Now in the workplace, that's typically something like the business impact or results of the larger business beyond our specific team dynamics, thinking a bit bigger than just the specific team we lead and how it's in conflict with a different team, or how I am a leader of a specific team and then conflict with the leader of another team.
How does our interaction affect the entire business or the entire piece of the business that the two of us work within? So shared interest is a common idea. Regardless of the specifics of the conflict. Something to look for as a place to resolve. Another general concept that applies really to all conflicts is this idea of focusing on the future in the conversation rather than trying to unravel the past and focusing more on solving the business problem than on the relationship problem.
Sometimes these get kind of muddy and co-mingled, and because we have a communication difficulty with a person just on a relationship basis, it causes us to have challenges on a business basis. So I'm not saying that we should ignore the relationship issue and never try to fix it. That's not what I'm saying. I'm saying that in the heat of the moment, in the middle of a conflict about a business issue is probably not the time to tackle that.
Another guiding principle is one issue per conversation as a good general rule for how to deal with conflicts with other people. The more issues you put on the table, the more complicated it gets and significantly more difficult to resolve. So when you're in the middle of a conflict with another business leader, let's focus on the business problem rather than the relationship problem.
And if you can add the context of a prior episode where I've talked about meta conversations or transition conversations, it might be worth visiting the idea with this particular person. How can we in the future work better together on a general basis? So on another day or at a different time, we might have a conversation about how our relationship could be better in the heat of a specific business issue problem, though.
Let's solve that first. OK, so the general concepts are shared interest, probably business impact. Focus on the future and then let's focus on solving the conflict in front of us right now. Rather than the global relationship issue. Those are two different issues. So one issue per conversation as a general rule. Now the specifics to consider the qualifying ideas when you have conflict with another leader in your organization usually comes up when you have conflicting interests that at least appear is that you can't resolve it or sometimes legitimately you cannot resolve it.
Sometimes what you're going to run into and a leader to leader conflict is that the two departments or two teams have legitimately different goals. This is frequently true if you report to different leaders yourselves. Sometimes it's true if you report to the same leader. You know, there are times I've seen in manufacturing world where maybe the quality department or the quality team, the lab team has different goals than the production team, and they might all report to the production manager.
So sometimes there are structural issues different goals between departments that cause conflicts between people. And when you run into these types of structural issues, it's important to view them through the lens of a structural conflict, not a personal conflict. And the way to resolve those is, again, keeping in mind the three principles we talked about prior and add to this the layer of maybe this is a conflict between our roles that we need to address, not a conflict between us as people and if that's true, then you have at least two things you could do.
There may be more, and there are two that come to mind immediately for me, or one thing you can do is go to the leader that you have in common, or go to the level of leadership that can help resolve conflicts between teams, that can mitigate goals, adjust goals, clarify expectations, help reconcile where boundaries are between people, those kinds of things.
So maybe an approach is to go to the leader that you have in common, or the leader who has the authority to reconcile the structural issues and work with them to find out where those boundaries lie and how you can get those structural issues resolved. Sometimes you can't. Sometimes it's inherent to the organization, and sometimes there are some friction or conflict between teams purely for the purpose of kind of like a checks and balances idea.
Like we balance each other out because we have conflicting interests. Kind of like the three branches of our U.S. government are supposed to work. So conflicting interests sometimes is applied intentionally so that we have checks and balances against each other to keep us in check as an organization. It does cause friction between people and if we can view it through the lens of this is a structural conflict between our roles and it doesn't have to become a personal conflict.
So the two things you can do are to go to the leader who can help you, help you resolve the structural issue. And if that's not possible because it's intentional and it's necessary for the type of teams you're working on, then what you can do is recognize it for what it is that it's a constraint on both people.
It's a role constraint rather than a conflict between people and in a respectful way, tried to figure out how to navigate that with your peer, with the presumption. Going back to something I've talked about in other episodes, the presumption of benign intent, the presumption that they are responding to what they see based on the constraints they face, rather than that they're just a person who's trying to get in your way and hopefully you can help them see that about you, too.
So the idea here is conflict between leaders and organization. Has the same basic concepts at its core, and it also has some qualifying or constraining ideas that might be driven by structural issues or role conflicts between people. And the way to look at that is from a mature perspective that we are just people who have different responsibilities and we are responding to the responsibilities, the constraints we have in our role rather than we're two people who want to be at war with each other in the workplace.
I hopefully shed some light and helps you think through and consider ways to resolve conflicts with other leaders. In the organization. I think if you can apply the general concepts about looking for shared interests, focusing on the future and focus on the business problem before you worry about the relationship problem, unless of course, it's a intentional murder conversation about the relationship and then view the conflict through the lens of role constraint or structural conflict rather than personal conflict.
Make sure that both of you see it through that lens. Have the conversation in that light in a respectful and honoring way. If you can do that, you can talk like a leader This has been the Talk Like The Leader podcast. You can listen to this show every week wherever you get your podcast. If you haven't be sure to subscribe so you never miss an episode.
I'm Guy Harris and thanks for listening.