Successful managers are leaders, and leaders must have a keen awareness of how their own characteristic traits influence how they deal with different people in different situations. Having that understanding about how you’re wired makes you dig much deeper than “are you a ‘type A’ or ‘type B’ personality?” Family upbringing and cultural heritage are major contributors to how you view, react and respond to adversity and conflict situations. Did your parents handle disputes by yelling or by implementing the “silent treatment?” Some cultures avoid conflict and promote “respecting superiors” no matter what. Some people avoid conflict for the simple fact that they are afraid of losing their job. For leaders, conflict avoidance is not an option.
- Avoiding – Low Assertiveness, Low Cooperativeness
Everyone loses here and this is clearly the worse place to be.
- Accommodating – Low Assertiveness, High Cooperativeness
You lose while others get what they want.
- Compromising – Medium Assertiveness, Medium Cooperativeness
This is a tricky one. On face value it seems like a good outcome but the reality is that everyone has to give up something.
- Competing – High Assertiveness, Low Cooperativeness
The bulldog (you) wins, but others lose. You may feel good about it in the short run, but what impact will that have on your leadership reputation?
- Collaborating – High Assertiveness, High Cooperativeness
Yes! This is the perfect win –win scenario. While it’s the preferred solution, it takes a lot of time an effort which may not be an option in some scenarios.
Can You Feel the Heat?
As you move up the management chain, the level of conflict (and therefore politics) increases exponentially. As I rose up the ranks to Director, I could immediately feel the increased intensity of politics and therefore conflict. And when I left Oracle for my first VP role, I was met with the harsh fact that I was a “minnow in the shark tank” from a political perspective. Not only were my peers more skilled at “the game,” but also the management culture encouraged frequent, direct conflict. Not being prepared for this, I started checking in with my CEO for every important decision I had to make. I thought I could avoid conflict by making certain that the boss was fully on-board and supportive. Before I knew it, I lost my confidence and stopped being a leader. I was paralyzed by the conflict.
How you react to conflict directly affects how you will be viewed as a leader.
Fatal Mistakes in Handling Conflict:
- Ostrich Syndrome – burying your head in the sand and pretending, even hoping that the conflict isn’t there or will resolve itself will take away your leadership credibility with everyone i.e. your direct reports, peers, and manager.
- "Human Tornado" – beware if you are more apt to be emotional. Visibly demonstrating that you are upset in a conflict situation (e.g. losing your temper, having an outburst and leaving a path of destruction) will do nothing good for you. It will only damage your reputation. Moreover, making rash decisions in the heat of the moment is a recipe for disaster. You cannot think clearly when you are being attacked and in a defensive posture.
- Looking for the Water Cooler –discussing your conflict with others (i.e. at the water cooler)as an outlet for stress will perpetuate office politics, causing people to take sides and worse yet, gossip. Influencing through gossip is not leadership.
- Count to 10… How about 86,400 instead? - Waiting 24 hours to respond to a high conflict situation can’t hurt, it can only help. Don’t hit “send” on that flaming email response or you will regret it later. If you’re in a meeting, bite your tongue and take the action to respond later. Buying time to calm your emotions and to think through the situation logically and analytically will lead to better actions by you and favorable outcomes for everyone.
- “Punch a Wall” – No, not literally. I remember as teenagers we would punch walls when we were upset. Why? Well, if your hand hurts then you’ll forget why you were upset. Find a way to remove and distract yourself from the immediate conflict e.g. take a walk, go work out, meditate, or whatever you do to relax. The faster you can diffuse your emotional tension, the sooner you’ll be able to deal with the conflict in a reasonable manner.
- Call Your “Dr. Phil” – Yes, it’s very lonely at the top and you need to find someone who will allow you to vent and be your “voice of reason.” Calling a friend or talking to your spouse is a good first step but they are not likely to fully understand your crisis. While they can give you moral support and be a good listener, they aren’t likely able to provide you with sound business advice. Find someone you would consider a mentor or coach. Most CEOs have executive coaches to help them work through high stress situations. Having someone who understands your strengths and weaknesses, has context and continuity to your unique business dynamics, and can work with you to create viable resolution approaches (e.g. utilizing the 5 TKI Conflict Modes with you) is invaluable.