This conflict couldn’t have come at a more inconvenient time. Ron was dealing with the death of his father, a project delivery delayed by supply shortages, and losing one of his top salespeople all within a week. Now come to find out, his South American counterpart has stepped on his toes by moving forward with a new sales strategy that Ron had specifically asked to see before the unveiling. Moreover, the CEO is now asking why Ron hasn’t jumped on the bandwagon and started to implement some of the new ideas which were included.
This is how I found one of my clients who was asking for help in holding his co-workers accountable, specifically, this South American leader.
I like to use a very simple, yet disciplined process for accountability which I’ve outlined in previous blog posts. What I’d like to focus on today is where you need to get an agreement. And preferably, you need to get an agreement before the conflict even arises.
So. for example, you are a member of a 3-person team, responsible for different areas of business development. It’s been recently decided that one team member is going to be utilized for a completely different business project. Your team is now down to two. Moreover, the work of the exiting team member is going to be absorbed by the two remaining team members. Of course, there will be a transition and communication plan to ensure all of the boxes are checked and everyone is on the same page. What’s next?
Here’s my suggestion:
As a team, discuss where things might go wrong.
- What happens if toes are stepped on, or one of you strays beyond your lane and into another’s?
- What will you do if communications have been misunderstood by your clients?
- If there is a discrepancy in a commission, what will you do?
- How will you resolve conflict within the team?
Deciding how you will resolve a conflict of any kind is imperative BEFORE the conflict occurs. This allows all of the team members to have an open and honest discussion without emotion or defensiveness. It also allows each team member to proactively engage once the conflict occurs. Because the team has already discussed and agreed upon the actions to be taken, permission has been given to address the issue immediately.
Too often these discussions don’t occur as part of the planning process, or never at all. In those cases, feelings are hurt, team members are resentful, everyone makes up their own story about what happened. After all of that, no one’s willing to have a discussion. This is where people typically get caught in the Fundamental Attribution Error.
Fundamental Attribution Error
According to Saul McLeod, a psychology lecturer, and researcher, this is best described as a tendency to under-emphasize what may be happening in a situation related to someone’s behavior while over-emphasizing explanations related to negative personal traits. This has also been described as “the tendency to believe that what people do reflects who they are”.
In this short video, see how the fundamental attribution error affects us even at a very young age.
By trying to anticipate issues, and discussing how they will be addressed as a team, the tendency to blame others is less likely to arise. Instead, every team member should realize that an agreement was made previously. So there must be another reason that the conflict has now occurred. They will be much more likely to ask ‘what happened’, rather than ‘what’s wrong with you?’
Back to Ron
Separately, Ron and his South American colleague could have had the discussion of ‘what happens if’ before it happened. They might have brainstormed what barriers might get in the way of the early plan preview. They might also have both concluded that their intentions were to present the plan together, and what might get in the way of that?
Ron needed to consider other possibilities. Was the sales plan shared because his colleague was trying to make him look bad? Or did the CEO specifically ask for the plan while he was in his South American office on a site visit? The first reason is the fundamental attribution error at work. The second is just as possible as the first.
In working with Ron, we developed an outline for his conversations with both the colleague and the CEO. We focused on the facts, not the stories or assumptions that Ron had created. And we also pinpointed the questions he needed to ask in order to fully understand the situation. This allowed Ron to be successful in both conversations and show strong leadership. He was able to focus on the business results and the path forward while strengthening the relationships. Well done Ron!
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