In any leadership position, conflict is both inevitable and uncomfortable, which is why many leaders avoid initiating difficult but necessary conversations within their team. Today, Chris and Perry reveal three strategies for leaning into conflict that often arises from difficult conversations.
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Perry Holley: Welcome to the Don Maxwell Executive Leadership Podcast, where our goal is to help you increase your reputation as a leader, increase your ability to influence others, and increase your ability to fully engage your team to deliver remarkable results. I am Perry Holley, a John Maxwell facilitator and coach.
Chris Goede: And I’m Chris Goede, vice-president with the John Maxwell company. Welcome and thank you for joining. Hey, just as a quick reminder, if you want to learn more about the five levels of leadership, or maybe you’re interested in having Perry, or one of our executive coaches or facilitators, join you and your organization, please visit johnmaxwellcompany.com/podcast. And while you’re there, you can also leave a comment or question. Also, download the Learning Guide that Perry has created, you can follow along in this lesson. Now, as we get started today, I think you guys know that Perry and I have known each other for some time, and the way we got to really know each other was, Perry was my executive coach for a little while. And I always tease him about these titles, and I’m a little concerned about where this title came from. Because I feel like he took some notes of our conversations back in the day, and they keep showing up. But today’s topic, and I’m really excited about today’s topic, and the next three that we’re going to do in this series. But today’s topic is, why can’t you just like me, or do what I say? Perry, talk to us a little bit about what you were thinking around this.
Perry Holley: That has nothing to do with you-
Chris Goede: Yeah.
Perry Holley: … as far as you know. Looking at that, we’re talking about conflict, conflict, resolution, conflict management, whatever you want to call it. I got invited to do a speech, it was actually in Europe, and I said, “Well, what’s the topic that you like?” And they said, “Could you do something on handling difficult conversations?” I went “Really? That’s a problem?” 175 managers in a room, and I just took a poll from the stage. How many of you have a conversation you need to have with someone that you have not had? 90% of the hands went up. I almost fell off the stage. And I realized during the lunches, and the meetings, and the breakouts, as I talked to people, that this is a problem that many of us struggle with. And when I ask why, is that, “My job’s hard enough. I don’t need to introduce more conflict. It just doesn’t go well, and I just keep putting it off.” And as we all know, putting these things off does not make them better.
Chris Goede: No, and this is probably real for all of us. Just like when you were getting ready to give that keynote and you asked that question. I think those that are listening, if we were truly honest with ourselves, we would say it’s just not human nature for us to want to engage in conflict. What this makes me think about is, really the tool that we use around our behavioral assessments. It’s called RightPath. You guys have heard us talk about this. We use this in several of our trainings, a lot of our coaching, just so that we can truly understand how people are wired. What’s great about this assessment that we use is, that we actually have a category that talks about conflict. Where it gives you a scale of where you fall, versus challenging, versus harmonious, and where you’re at on that scale. Then it goes even a little bit further, and you can even talk about, okay, so now in this area, now where’s your compassion? Right? This is an interesting conversation. We have a lot of conversations about, well, I’m a compassionate person, and that is true, but you also have the ability under compassion to be detached, and what is your scale on that? There’s one other thing that I want to talk about real quick, that I think this is just a great tool. Because we’re talking about this, and we want to be able to equip and resource you with tools, this assessment. The other thing I love about is, when you drill down even further in the assessment about how you’re wired, is that we get into these three categories. I think this is good for you to know about yourself. Where do you fall on the scale of challenging, versus tolerant. Right? When is it go time for you to finally just challenge? Logical versus sympathetic. This is interesting for me because I’m way heavy on the logical side, which doesn’t mean I’m not sympathetic, sometimes I may be, but I have to understand that that’s how I’m wired. And then the other one that it breaks down is, action oriented, versus supportive. When you begin to get this granular, and looking into somebody and how they’re wired, you, yourself, even your teams, it says a lot about how you can go about handling these tough conversations. I think you need that data to know that.
Perry Holley: Right. And a lot of people cringe when you tell them that there’re really two types of people, you’re either going to have that compassionate lean in with sympathy and come alongside people, or you’ll detach, and you’ll be logical, and you’ll solve the problem. You actually go into action mode, which is good as well, but it also, there’s a danger zone on both sides. You can be that challenging detached person, and also you don’t avoid conflict, you lean into it, and you actually maybe even enjoy it more than most, and that can be a problem as well. So I was thinking about a few strategies that maybe can help our audience step out of this conflict comfort zone, and leverage conflict to really, I’m finding it helps build trust and respect with the team. It doesn’t have to be aggressive and ugly. It can be a very positive thing. I’m going to ask you, I’m flashing back to a previous podcast. We talk in the five levels, there is a danger zone that we talked about, that everybody can watch out for that. Do you remember what that is?
Chris Goede: Is this a test, in front of everybody? The five levels? Yeah, I do. This is, because we talk about this a lot. Remember, back in the five levels model, we all are naturally wired at level two, which is the ability to connect and relate to people. Or, at level three, where it is, you’re just task driven, your production. We need each other to have a complete team, but we are naturally wired differently. We talk a lot about the difference between tasks and relationship. And the danger zones here are, for at level two, if you’re a strong relational leader, and you have no problem connecting with your team, sometimes you tend to just hang out at level two, a little bit long. Too long, right? And you have your production people going, “Let’s go. Let’s go. Let’s go.” And it could be a fatal flaw for you, if you stay too far at level two, in regards to the organization, and not focus enough on hitting your KPIs, and the results with the team. On the other side, if you’re a strong task driven person, level three production leader, you’ve got to get things done, and you know who I’m talking about. And Perry and I are laughing. We can say that, because we’re both level two, and we like to pick on level threes. But we need you. Right? Oftentimes you just skip right over level two influence, and you don’t build that foundation of connecting with people, and you go straight from getting a promotion, a title, straight to level three. And that both of those are as equally danger zones that we need to be aware of. Did I pass the test?
Perry Holley: Yeah, very well.
Chris Goede: Okay. Right.
Perry Holley: Very well done. But also there’s danger, when we go back to this topic, of how you handle conflict, how you view conflict. It can also be a danger zone there because if I’m a strong, and we are strong relationship people, we make tend to avoid conflict to preserve relationship.
Chris Goede: Yep.
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Perry Holley: But if you’re very, like you said, a very strong task leader, you may tend to promote conflict, because it’ll help move the ball, and get results, and get those KPIs. So, John teaches in this area, which I love, I use this all the time, is we need to balance care with candor, and not be caught in that danger zone. Tell me what your thoughts on balancing care and candor.
Chris Goede: Yeah. So let’s go back to the differentiator between level two, relational level three leaders that task production, just naturally wired. We have to be good at all, we have natural wiring. When John talks about this, as a relational leader, we tend to lead with the care and maybe at times avoid the candor. Or we lead with so much care, by the time we get to the candor, maybe we don’t even remember what the candor is for.
Perry Holley: We sugarcoat that candor.
Chris Goede: That’s right. We sugar coat it. Right? And so the problem is, if we do this, the relationship with you, and those you have influence with, becomes dysfunctional. And it’s never all good. Right? It can’t all just be care, and lovey-dovey, and singing kumbaya. Right? And so you got to have some of that candor. But then on the other side, we’re talking about the strong task production leaders that tend to lead with candor, before they even think about care, or what you’re thinking. The problem is, is that begins to build a huge gap, and your relationship becomes distant with those that you have influence with. To be honest with you, they probably don’t even really want to be around you. When you start, they hear you coming down the hallway, they shut their door, or they try to slip out, not wanting to be seen. You’ve been at the grocery store before, when you’ve seen somebody you don’t want to talk to you. Right? What’d you do? You hurried up with that buggy down to the next row. So what you need to make sure, as we balance both of these two, as John talks about with care and candor. It’s a great way to think about how we’re going to handle tough conversations and conflict with those that we’re leading.
Perry Holley: Yeah. This is a game changer for me, because I was really on care. Didn’t want to rock the boat, didn’t want to cause a problem, so I let difficult situations fester and they just don’t get better. So by having that direct, being able to, I care about you, but we’re going to have this conversation, allowed me to put boundaries on it, to where I could operate within that, and people began to respond very, very positively to that. And it was still, I had to go out of my comfort zone, but I found a new comfort zone in being able to talk straight to people. And it really helped my level three production when I did. Now I can hold people accountable.
Chris Goede: Yeah.
Perry Holley: Now I can set expectations. Now I can maintain a standard. I don’t have to dance around things because I’m trying to be nice. I can still be nice, but be direct. All right, number two. I learned this, I believe, from the Patterson and the guys that wrote Crucial Conversations. I just love this little phrase. But they said, “You always want to maintain mutual purpose and mutual respect.” And when you’re dealing with these difficult situations, and I think whenever I’m in a conflict situation, and this is at home, or it could be at work. Are we working toward the same outcome? What’s the goal of the conversation? Do I just want to win, or be right? Do we want to resolve the conflict? So maintaining that purpose, and then that mutual respect for each other, really says a lot to me, when I think about it. I’m in the middle of a conflict, wait a minute, are we going after the same outcome, the same purpose, and are we exhibiting mutual respect for each other?
Chris Goede: Yeah, I think this is a key point you bring up right here. Because it’s so easy for all of us, including, I mean, even just Perry and I having a tough conversation with somebody, to get emotionally worked up in that. And here’s what I find, and this is just me personally. At times when those escalate, and maybe they’ve gone a little bit further than they should have, I find myself worrying more about little things, or the emotional side of the conversation, versus to your point. Did I go into the conversation? Did I spend time on the front end, figuring out what is the goal? What is the outcome? What’s the mutual purpose coming out of this conversation? And make sure that I stay laser focused on that, and make sure that I don’t allow the emotions to become part of how I’m communicating around conflict. Because if we do that, that’s when things get a little out of control. Things are maybe even said personally, maybe there’s some disrespect that happens, the emotion continues to skyrocket. And so, as you’re getting ready to have these conversations, or think about conversations that you have to have, I think it’s a great point. Make sure you have that mutual purpose, and then make sure you deliver it with respect.
Perry Holley: Right. That’s a great read. If you haven’t read the Crucial Conversations, highly recommend that. The third strategy for really positively handling conflict in a timely fashion, was something I learned from Dr. Henry Cloud, author. If you hadn’t read the Henry Cloud, you probably should do that.
Chris Goede: Yes.
Perry Holley: He’s talked about boundaries. He’s got boundaries for leaders, boundaries for marriages. He’s really outstanding on that. But he said that what you have today, good, bad, indifferent, in your work environment, in your home environment, is a combination of two things. This really struck with me too. Is that it’s a combination of what you created, and what you allowed to be. What you created, and what you allow to be. And when there’s tension or unrest, I had to ask myself, “What have I created that caused this?” Or, “What am I allowing that’s causing this?” And I began to really look at situations differently. It’s almost like extreme ownership on my side that, well, wow, I created this, I allowed this, what choices do I need to make to get that under control?
Chris Goede: That is a fantastic question that we should all be asking ourselves. In any situation that you have to have a tough conversation, I think that right there is the highlight for me in this lesson, about the question to ask yourself. Because then, you are taking a position of complete ownership. And when you avoid conflict, or even if you delay in addressing situations that may involve a tough conversation or conflict, what your communicating to, not only that individual, but the team around you, is that you’re allowing that behavior. Your team sees it, by the way. Right? We say all the time, right?
Perry Holley: Watching you all the time.
Chris Goede: The team is watching you all the time.
Perry Holley: Watching you all the time.
Chris Goede: Yeah. And so, if you don’t want to create a, a culture of uncertainty or of distrust, you’ve got to be proactive in that. And I love where you’re going with this question, because let’s just step back before we have… We just said, “Hey, you got to have a purpose of the conversation.” Even step back further and say, “Hey, is this something that I created, or I allowed, that I need to address?” I love that.
Perry Holley: Yeah. I just found that as a, I was a young leader and working with a colleague of mine and we got to talking, I knew I was struggling as a first line manager, stepping up to difficult conversations. And I asked him, “How do you handle that?” He goes, “I love it. I live for it.” And I thought, conflict. He goes, “I live for it.” I go, “Well, I’m avoiding it. He’s living for it.” We both have a problem that we need to not… What’s the goal of this thing is, I want to engage my team to deliver remarkable results. I’m finding that if I don’t step up, I’m not engaging them properly. And if I do step up too harshly, I’m disengaging them too. I need to find the place in here where I can do this to drive remarkable results.
Chris Goede: Well, I think, let me wrap it up. Just coming of that question you just asked, and the comments that you made, again, back to my initial comment. What we want to do is, we want to add value to you, and there’s resources, and to help you with this. Everybody that’s listening to this conversation has a tough conversation, candid conversation, that they need to have with somebody. And one of the things I would encourage you to do is, make sure you understand that you have to lead people the way they need to be led. That also goes for having a candid conversation. And so, thinking about understanding the behavioral profiles, going back to RightPath, you have to know your people. You got to know your family members. You talked about, this has happening personally and professionally. We’re not going to talk about some of our personal conversations. But one of the things I love about the assessment that we use is that, we have a confrontation style index. And depending on, you take the data from your behavioral profile, and it breaks it down into these four categories. And I want you to think about this as you’re listening to us right now. Where do you fall in these four categories? You want to engage it. You want to resolve it. You want to avoid it, or you want to restrict it. All of us fall, and we’re wired, naturally, to fall in one of those areas when it comes to confrontation. You need to know that, and you need to know that about your people. And I gave those to you because I said, “We need to lead people the way that they need to be led.” And that’s important for you to know that. And my closing thought is this. Make sure that you are really thinking about and leading relationships, not the allowing the emotions to take over. Right? Manage that relationship and what you want to communicate, through some of the tips that Perry gave us, versus allowing those emotions to take over when you’re having a candid conversation.
Perry Holley: Great thought, Chris. Thank you. As a reminder, if you’d like to learn more about the five levels, get the Learner Guide for this lesson. Leave us a comment or a question, we always love to hear from you. You can do all of that at johnmaxwellcompany.com/podcast. As always, we’re grateful that you would join us here. That’s all today, from the John Maxwell Executive Leadership Podcast.
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