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Seven Steps to Manage Conflict Among Leaders


What's causing the conflict?

Frustrated with Conflict Among Leaders?

What do you do when senior leaders can’t see eye to eye? Worse yet, what do you do when the conflict becomes a public battleground?

Leaders face increasing pressure, demands, and frustrations as they continue to lead teams to achieve highly challenging goals.

Doing more with less has become a way of life. Unfortunately, the frustrations often spill over into meetings, relationships, and how messages are communicated.

If you are called on to coach, assist, or facilitate a conflict, the following seven steps can help you get started:

1. Gather information about the conflict

Determine who is involved—is there a history of conflict with the key players? Why is this important? Who is impacted by the ongoing conflict? What is that costing the organization in terms of customer service, turnover, motivation and achieving results? What are the roles of the key players—are they equal in organizational level, power, and responsibilities?

2. Determine the cause of the conflict

Drill down and identify if the conflict is real or imagined. Sometimes conflict can simply be the result of two people with very different perceptions of the same situation.

Common causes of conflict include:

  • Incompatible goals—In order to “win” both leaders cannot achieve their goals at the same time. This requires a closer look at how to collaborate and redefine goals that are aligned with the larger organizational strategy.
  • Conflicting values—Are the leaders at odds about what truly drives them? Core values can create a big clash in the workplace.
  • Facts and information—Are both parties operating on accurate and current information?
  • Personality clashes—What styles are the two leaders using when conflict erupts? Helping leaders understand their own tendencies and those of others can greatly reduce the feeling of intolerance in those with different personality styles. Some great assessments are available to help leaders understand their personalities as well as their natural conflict styles.

3. Organize a meeting to discuss and resolve the conflict

Invite the leaders to come together with you to explore the conflict and work together to finally reach a mutually satisfying solution to the ongoing conflict.

In order for this to work, both leaders must be committed to finding a common solution—one that will result in a lasting resolution.

Be sure to find a neutral meeting place, as free from distraction as possible.  Allow plenty of time to air concerns, perspectives and to explore new possibilities and approaches to the problem.

4. Kickoff and facilitate the meeting

Begin by restating the purpose of the meeting. Agree to some simple ground rules to make the meeting a success and reduce the chances of the conflict escalating even further.

Examples of helpful ground rules:

  • One person speaks at a time (no interrupting)
  • Each person has equal time to state a point of view
  • Both leaders remain calm (no emotional outbursts, name calling, etc.)
  • One person explains his/her perspective fully—the other person must

    restate that perspective clearly (and to the satisfaction of the first leader)

    before he/she (the listener) can give his/her own perspective.

  • Both parties are willing to consider new approaches
  • (And so forth—best to have about 5 ground rules that both leaders can



5. Follow a proven format for resolving the conflict

Great listening skills are a must here! There are many approaches to discussing the issues. Here’s one example:

  1. Facilitator summarizes the conflict (checks for understanding)
  2. Leader A explains:
    • Key concerns about the conflict
    • What’s important from Leader A’s point of view
  3. Leader B “listens to understand” and then paraphrases Leader A’s point of view (with no editorial comments)
  4. Leader A confirms that the paraphrase is correct (or not). If not, Leader B must try again until it’s been restated to the satisfaction of Leader A.
  5. Leader B explains:
    • Key concerns about the conflict
    • What’s important from Leader B’s point of view
  6. Leader A “listens to understand” and then paraphrases Leader B’s point

    of view (with no editorial comments)

  7. Leader B confirms that the paraphrase is correct. (Same as above)
  8. Facilitator leads brief discussion about exploring alternatives to the

    current way of handling the conflict.

    And so forth . . .

Important tips to keep in mind:

  • The longer the conflict has escalated, the more difficult it may be to resolve.
  • Both leaders must be committed to finding a mutually satisfying solution.

    One leader can’t achieve this alone.

  • Cooperative/collaborative problem solving takes time. The process cannot

    be rushed. It’s likely that more than one meeting will be required to reach full commitment to a new approach to the old problem.

6. Summarize agreements

Before the session ends, summarize what has been agreed to so far. Each leader should state any action items agreed to during the meeting.

Agree on a time and place for a follow-­‐up meeting . . . whether that meeting is a continuation of the work done in the first meeting or simply a follow-­‐up where both leaders are checking in to review progress with the new approach. Be sure everyone schedules the date, time, and place on their calendars before they leave.

7. Reinforce the new behaviors

Look for opportunities to congratulate the leaders on success or even progress toward success.

Remember . . . “A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.”   Lao-Tzu, Chinese philosopher (604 BC – 531 BC)


For more information please contact Kathy Pennell Cooperman:  kathy@kathycooperman.com, www.kathycooperman.com

©KC Leadership Consulting LLC, 2012 (www.kathycooperman.com)

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