Managerial Skill #27: Deflating Conflict Like Corporate Gandhi

RJ Morris Audacious Ideas, Coaching, Leadership, Learning, Learning and Development, Performance, RJ Morris

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.

RJ Morris
I have spent the last 20 years of my professional life advising leaders to make great talent decisions to drive business results. In my current gig, I lead talent acquisition and management for a multi-billion-dollar, 100% employee-owned construction company. I geek out on analytics, succession planning, etc. and love it when we position folks to do their best work. That’s fun stuff. I tease bad HR people, because I think we can all do better, myself included. That’s fun, too.