Tonight I was reminded (yet again) that differences in leadership style can cause friction in a relationship. This is true whether that relationship is at work, at school, or at home.
Imagine this scenario: Two leaders are arguing about how to do something. They disagree based on their approach to the situation. They both believe they are right.
Leader profile #1: Project manager at a national corporation; Gets along with just about everyone; Laid back; Believes that rules are important, but not when they are just downright stupid; thinks everyone should play by the same rules and that equality is important.
Leader profile #2: Small business owner, educator, PhD in Leadership; Relentless about “leading by example”; Believes in “equitable, not equal” leadership; High achieving and not particularly laid back. (Oh yes, and she writes this blog, too.)
Me: You need to put this parking tag in your vehicle.
Leader #1: Why? It’s your spot and you’ve rented it.
Me: Yes, but you need the tag.
Leader #1: That’s just dumb. Everyone knows you. They know it’s your spot. It’s dark out and I’m tired. I don’t feel like going out to the car again. Just leave it. It’ll be fine.
Me: No, it won’t. I’m on the board of this community and we agree that we need the parking tags. I’m not saying it’s a perfect system. I’m saying that you need the tag in your car, particularly because I’m on the board and we can’t ask others to use tags if we, as board members, don’t do it ourselves.
Leader #1: But I’m not on the board.
Me: No, but the parking spot belongs to me and I’m on the board. Please put the tag in the car.
Reluctantly Leader #1 (who happens to be my other half, and the parking spot in question is in the complex where we live), trudged out to the car and displayed the tag.
This happens all the time. We are two strong, good people, with very different approaches. The same thing can happen at work or at school.
Here’s what to do:
1. Talk about it. Let each person explain their point of view and justify their stance.
2. Remain calm. Avoid yelling, screaming and name-calling.
3. Focus on the problem, not the person. Just because you don’t like the other person’s leadership style, doesn’t mean you have the right to be nasty. As my friend, Lisa Chell, says, words are powerful tools in relationships.
4. Pick your battles. Decide when it is worth fighting to the bitter end and when it is OK to give in.
5. Give in sometimes.. and stand your ground when you need to. In this case, the other person conceded the point. Sometimes, I’m the one to make a concession.
6. Acknowledge the other person’s efforts to communicate with you. If the other person gives you the space to express yourself, listens and works with you to find an agreement, then acknowledge that. It takes more effort and self-control to do that than it does to fly off the handle in a rage.
7. Be prepared to act. If the other person digs in their heels, and you don’t want to deal with the repercussions, then be prepared to do some things yourself. This should be the exception to the rule though, not a modus operandi.
8. Acknowledge that your differences may be due to individual styles or approaches. Usually, there is more than one way to solve a problem. The amount of risk involved in each option may be different. Some people have a lower tolerance for risk than others. By acknowledging that often there is no single “right” way, conflicts are minimized.
9. Work together as much as possible. Ask questions like, “What can we do to figure this out in a way that makes sense for both of us?” By focussing on solving the problem using a teamwork approach, you take the focus off the problem and put it on the solution. By doing so, conflict transforms into collaboration.
These are not foolproof suggestions and I can’t guarantee they’ll work 100% of the time. What I can say is that I’ve used these techniques at home and at work and often the result is even better than I expected.
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Sarah Elaine Eaton is a faculty member in the Werklund School of Education, University of Calgary, Canada.