Stop arguing, start solving problems (video transcript)
Do you ever find yourself in a conflict at work fighting over what’s the right decision or what’s the right course of action? Read on to discover my 4 tips and tricks to help you work your way through a task-based conflict at work.
Tip 1: Who owns the decision?
The first step in figuring out a conflict centered on an issue or a decision is to figure out who owns that decision. It’s amazing how much more effective we can be when we are clear on who’s responsible for making the decision.
If you are responsible for making the decision, I want you to think differently about the conflict that you’re in. Your first priority as the decision maker is to hear as many options as possible, and identify any potential risks and concerns of those options. Then as soon as you have the information to make a good call, you need to shut off the discussion.
If on the other hand, you don’t own the decision, then the process is reversed. Your job as a party to this deliberation is to make sure you’re contributing new information and as many options as possible, as well as spotting assumptions or risks in some of the different plans.
But once you’ve done that, you don’t own it. You need to let go of that rope.
That’s a situation where you want to leave it to the decision maker to make the call.
Now, there’s a third possible scenario, which is ‘who knows who owns this decision?’. In that case, I would really encourage you to stop the conflict, stop the deliberations, and actually go find out who owns the decision. Until you have a clear decision maker, nobody can decide who’s actually right and who gets to say.
So to avoid a lot of wasted time and energy in a task based conflict at work is figure out who owns the decision and click into the right approach depending on whether you do or you don’t.
Tip 2: What are the values?
If you’re in a conflict, what you’ll find is it’s not facts and information and statistics and evidence that are beneath that fight. Those are just things that are conveniently thrown out to justify what you really want to do. What you feel is the right thing.
And what you feel is the right thing comes from what you value, what you believe, and how you’re motivated. So the second tip is trying to figure out how to find out all that stuff that’s going on in someone’s head, but that’s not being said?
A great way to do that is to ask the question, what would a good solution need to look like for you? Or what are the criteria on which you’re evaluating these different options? Those kinds of questions will help you see what someone’s values are.
Let’s look at an example. Imagine everyone is returning to the office, and after conducting a big poll you’ve learned is that one of the offices has very few people returning. This makes it hard to justify keeping the office open for so few people working there full time, so you’re considering whether to close the office.
Using the technique we’ve explored, you would explain to your team that you need to make a decision on whether to keep the office open or to close it, and ask them what is important to them in our criteria for making this decision.
Someone might object, citing the sheer cost affordability and return on investment as reasons not to open. Somebody else might counter by pointing out the importance of face time and collaborative spirit to the work culture.
At this point you have learned a lot about the values of these two different people, and you now have more of a path to understanding what options might be attractive to both of them.
Tip 3: Acknowledge different stakeholders
A third strategy you can use is to ask about stakeholders that maybe you don’t understand.
Following the previous scenario, one stakeholder that you might not have considered yet is the landlord. You may know nothing about your relationship with the landlord or your lease or anything like that. So you could say, “Hey Joe, you’re the CFO, you own real estate, do you have a sense of whether we have an option that’s a lower cost option? Could we sublet some of the space and make it more affordable?”
So by calling out different stakeholders and parties to the decision, you open up possibilities. You’re also going to make that person feel that their opinion is valued, which is always a good thing to do in a conflict at work.
Tip 4: Factor in different perspectives
The next thing that you can do is highlight how people have different perspectives simply by naming them. You can start by naming your own perspective.
Again following the previous example, you might say “The reason I’m advocating for keeping the office open is because I lead this cross-functional team, and it’s the only place that I know will have the kind of downtime and interaction to build trust among people who don’t normally work together.”
You’ve stated because you lead a cross-functional team, you have a slightly different perspective. Now, ask for perspectives of others. “I can’t really think like somebody who runs one of our PNLs. So, Frank, I’d love to hear how this looks from your PNL perspective?”
It’s another great way of bringing in the constructive, important, valuable different perspectives on a problem and making it feel a lot less like a fight.
Separate what from how
Sometimes when I listen in on fights going on in teams, I notice that there’s a difference between the people who are fighting about what needs to be done and the people who are fighting about how it needs to be done. Ultimately, you need to prioritize what needs to be done decisions ahead of how it needs to be done.
In our office closure example, you would first need to determine whether to keep the office open or not, and then take ideas on how to implement that idea: for example, how much lead time will you have, and how will you support people to set up good remote working spaces.
It’s amazing how if you can make people feel heard and understood and valued in their concerns and risks about how a decision is implemented, they will be much more likely to be open to ultimately what is the right business decision.
That applies in just so many cases. So helping to separate out what we need to decide and here’s how we could implement that decision in a way that’s consistent with all of our values.
Step one: know the decision maker and know your role relative to that. Either you do own the decision, and your objective is about making people feel heard and understood and then being decisive, or you don’t own the decision, in which case you contribute making sure you share unique perspectives, spot any risks and throw your weight behind making the solution successful.
Step two: highlight the values that are in the conflict by talking about the criteria and highlight what a good solution needs to look like for you.
Step three: include different perspectives and stakeholders. You can bring a lot more options to the table, a lot more understanding, validation of one another’s different views.
Finally, make sure that you’re separating the difference between what decision you need to make and how you implement that decision. If you work through those techniques, you’ll find it feels more like problem solving and a lot less like fighting.
The importance of conflict resolution at work
Productive Versus Unproductive Conflict Resolution