Managerial Skill #27: Deflating Conflict Like Corporate Gandhi

Talent pros across the country have spent most of early 2016 trying to figure out how to basically just keep up. Escalating wages, tight labor markets and (mostly) good economic indicators. All we have to do is recruit and hire, retain top performers, set the right compensation, run a comprehensive but affordable benefits program and make sure everyone gets along. You got it, boss.

What if you could fix just one thing today, one thing that would make an impact? What would you pick? For me, if I could move the needle on manager effectiveness, man I would pick that right away. For sure.

Now, we all know that’s a long laundry list of behaviors and competencies to fix our managers. However, one item in particular I have been thinking about lately is the concept of being able to deflate conflict. I think there is real value in the sophistication and nuance required to let the air out of the balloon when tensions flare. People who have the confidence and skills necessary to do this well will succeed at a high level as they climb the ladder.

Here’s what I think that looks like around the shop:

  • Departmental territory marking. Susie can maneuver within the organization, ensuring that she gets her resources without torching other groups. She doesn’t fold up, but she’s savvy enough to act like FDR to flat out just get things done.
  • Team turmoil. Dan is able to play a Gandhi-like figure on the team, ensuring that everyone gets their say but that minor conflict never rises to the level of corporate MMA. He doesn’t ignore issues—that’s not it at all. Instead, he gets involved as appropriate and makes sure it’s handled.
  • Managing internal client dissatisfaction. Leaders set the tone on how their teams will interact with others. Some internal clients are great, and others don’t care one bit that you think they suck. Some leaders moan about “unreasonable expectations” and escalate the anger. “Aw man, the form police in accounting rejected my expense report because I had a typo—I hate those guys.” Consider that vs. “those folks in IT saved my bacon last week when I needed them.”

One note: Some situations or environments require some tension—production teams under deadlines, “make it or break it” type of times. However, it’s hard to maintain healthy conflict for a long time—it will degrade and turn into an ugly mid-election season Republican debate.

As young managers progress in their career, sometimes assertive, aggressive behavior is rewarded—they’re supposed to be hard asses. However, those who can also channel their inner Dr. Phil and drop the temperature of situations will end up going farther over the long term. Look for the corporate Gandhi on your team.

FOT Background Check

RJ Morris
R. J. Morris is based in the STL as the Director of Talent Acquisition and Management for McCarthy Building Companies, a multi-billion dollar national firm. Like many others in the FOT clan, he’s a sports nut who can endlessly draw the parallels between athletes, sports and the talent management game. I know, I know, as if we needed more of that. He has 10 years of practitioner experience leading talent efforts in corporate HR and another 7 years in leadership roles on the agency side, so he gets both sides of the desk. Talk to R.J. via emailLinkedInTwitter...

One Comment

  1. Indeed, young managers need (or, at least, feel that they need) to adopt a severe attitude to succeed. However, constant conflict can only mean tension at work; that translates into low productivity. As a result, all conflicts, though small, must be approached with care and calm to prevent them from turning into something bigger. Good tip!

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