The conversation at our senior leadership table was about a philosophy that would govern how we handled employee discipline across the organization, and we couldn’t abdicate our responsibility, we needed to decide. Over the years, we had drifted away from consistency with stronger leaders wanting to do it their way. It boiled down to two different philosophies and both were appropriate. Yet managing something as important as employee discipline two different ways, sometimes even with a division, was confusing for the employees. Even we as a leadership team didn’t agree. At one point in time our chief financial officer in exasperations said,

“I don’t care which philosophy we choose, as long as I can do what I want.”

No truer words have ever been spoken about conflict. I wasn’t surprised by what he said as he and I were often like “oil and water”. We didn’t mix well. In looking back, I would say that neither of us handled the conflict well.

At its root, conflict is about two things.

  1. Doing what’s right – This doesn’t mean there is a right way. Conflict happens when two people are each doing something they believe is right, but each is doing it differently.
  2. Whose voice will be heard – Which means “we do it my way” or “it’s my decision.”

The conflict I had with our CFO was about whose voice would be heard, his or mine. He believed if something impacted money (which just about everything did), his voice should be heard. If it was a lot of money, he wanted to be the one who made the decision. I believed that when it related to employees, which was my area of expertise, my voice needed to be heard, even if it cost a lot of money. We both believed what we were doing was right, so we were frequently in conflict.

If you don’t believe me, think back to a conflict you’ve had with your teenager, or a toddler. If you have kids, you’ve experienced conflict. If you don’t have kids today, think about conflict with your parents when you were a teenager. As a parent, you’ve had more experience and made more mistakes, so you know more and believe that you know what’s best for your child. Right? Of course. We parents are all wise and all knowing, and we want to protect our children from doing things that will be harmful to them or are stupid. Your son or daughter wants to do what they think is best, and they don’t care what you know. So, you begin the verbal battle about whose voice will be heard, which translates who will give up or give in. Yes, sometimes your teenager or toddler will win the conflict because we’re tired of it, and give in.

Conflict is something that will always be around if you work with people. You’ll experience conflict with the person you report to, your peers, and those who report to you.

How do we resolve conflict, or keep it from escalating?

Talk.

Yes, it’s that simple, talk to each other. You’re not enemies. You’re trying to do something for a good reason. Start by backing away from the anger and ask them what they are concerned about or makes them want to do it “their way.”  Then share your reasons for doing it “your way.” You might find clarity in the conversation, a compromise that works for both of you, or occasionally one of will say, “Okay, I now understand, we can do it your way”, Yes, it can happen if you talk. We spend too much time defending, not seeking to understand. In the end, someone’s voice will need to be heard, but the conversation will make it a little easier to accept.

Plans go wrong with too few counselors; many counselors bring success. Proverbs 15:22 (TLB)

Share via
Copy link