page contents

It was becoming more and more difficult to work in the engineering division. The two teams led by Marty and Sam were constantly butting heads. Their conflicts were now visible to many, and it was causing a lot of tension in the office. They were both right about their approaches and confident in their choices, so it was hard for either of them to back down.

The CEO decided to step in because he became unreasonably tense when he was around Marty and Sam. At first blush, the CEO believed that the situation between Marty and Sam wasn’t going to work out well for anyone. But, tuning into his rational side, he concluded that he needed more information before making any decision or judgment. One thing was clear to him: if these two people cannot agree then how could they possibly succeed at anything in growing the business?

Working with the guidance of his coach, the CEO decided to take these actions to moderate the conflict between Marty and Sam.

In this blog, I’ll explore five areas that were key to making progress on resolving the conflict among the Engineering Vice-Presidents.

Recognizing Conflict is the First Step

The first step is to recognize that there is a conflict. If you’re an HR executive, senior vice president, or someone who leads people strategy in your organization, it’s important to know the signs of conflict between executives. By being aware of these warning signs and taking steps to address them early on, you can help ensure that your team remains productive and effective.

Pay attention to changes in behavior. If executives who normally get along start avoiding each other or seem tense when they’re in the same room, that’s a sign that something is wrong. Listen to what people are saying. If you hear executives gossiping about each other or making negative comments, it’s another sign that there’s a potential for disruption.

Conflict is an inevitable part of life. Whether it is a conflict between people, ideas, or interests, conflict is a natural and normal part of existence. By acknowledging that conflict exists, parties can begin to explore ways to manage the conflict constructively. Additionally, recognizing conflict allows parties to identify the root causes of the conflict and begin to address them. Without recognition, conflict can fester and grow, leading to further damage. Thus, recognizing conflict is a vital first step in preventing further harm and beginning the process of resolution.

Know the Five Different Types of Conflict

Conflicts between organizational executives typically arise from one or more of five sources: values, goals, methods, resources, or positioning. Let’s understand the types of conflict and the implications on conflict mediation and resolution.

Values: Different people have different values, and when these values clash, conflict can arise. For example, one executive may place a high value on making money while another may place a higher value on serving the team members. Ultimately, this tests the alignment of individual and organizational goals.

Goals: Conflicts over goals are a common occurrence in the workplace. For example, the sales department may want to offer discounts to increase sales, while the finance department may want to limit discounts to protect profits. Leaders have choices regarding goals, and resolving goal conflicts is essential to organizational advancement. 

Methods: Different methods can lead to conflict if one executive feels that their way is the only way to do things. For example, one executive may prefer a more traditional approach while another may be more open to new ideas and change.

Resources: When executives are vying for the same resources, it can lead to conflict. This is often seen in cases where there are limited resources and each executive wants to make sure their team has what it needs to be successful.

Positioning: Positioning (sometimes called politics) conflicts arise when executives feel like they are being challenged or undermined by another executive. This can be due to a perceived difference in authority or power. These types of conflicts can be especially difficult to resolve because they often involve feelings of insecurity or threat.

Understand the Goals of Each Executive

Conflict is a common occurrence in any relationship. Whether it is between two friends, family members, or co-workers, conflict can arise for a variety of reasons. One of the most important things to remember when in conflict with someone else is to understand their goals. What are they hoping to achieve? What do they want out of the situation? Once you understand their goals, it becomes easier to generate solutions that satisfy both parties.

In business conflicts involving executives, start by talking with each executive separately. This will give you a chance to get each person’s side of the story and understand their perspective. It will also help you determine what, if anything, needs to be done to resolve the conflict.

In our case, the CEO decided to meet one-on-one with both Marty and Sam, in order to get a better understanding of their goals. He started by asking each of them what they wanted from their careers. They both had impressive resumes and impressive records of accomplishment.

Marty explained that he wanted to be able to lead his team without constant conflict. He felt that he was always having to fight for his ideas, and it was preventing him from being able to focus on his work. Sam, on the other hand, said that she wanted to be able to prove her worth to her team. She felt like she was always being second-guessed and that her ideas were constantly being shot down.

Understanding the goals of each executive is key to being able to find satisfactory solutions for the individuals and the organization. With this knowledge, the CEO was able to move forward.

Generating Solutions to Executive Conflicts

Generating alternatives and solutions to executive conflicts can seem like a daunting task. However, conflict is a natural part of any organization, and there are steps that can be taken to resolve it in a productive way. The first step is to identify the source of the conflict. Is it a personality clash? A disagreement about resources or priorities?

Once the source of the conflict is understood, it will be easier to develop possible solutions. If the conflict is due to a positioning clash, for example, coaching or counseling may be helpful. If the conflict is due to a disagreement about resources or priorities, on the other hand, it may be possible to find a compromise that satisfies both parties. Whatever the cause of the conflict, there are usually multiple paths to resolution. By taking the time to explore all of the options, it will be easier to find a solution that works for everyone involved.

The CEO asked Marty and Sam to sit down together and talk about their goals and to report back to him. After a long discussion, the two executives came up with a plan. They would work together to find solutions to the conflicts between their teams. This would require communication and compromise, but it was the only way to move forward. In some ways, it may have been the CEO’s attention that helped Marty and Sam to make progress.

Take Action to Moderate the Conflict

After understanding the goals of each executive, the CEO was able to make a better offer to Marty. He explained that he would be given more authority to make decisions for his team. This would allow him to focus on his work and lead his team more effectively. As for Sam, the CEO offered her a chance to lead a new project. This would give her the opportunity to show her worth to her team and prove her abilities.

The CEO’s offers were able to resolve the conflict between Marty and Sam, as they were both able to get what they wanted. Understanding the goals of each executive was key in being able to find a resolution that satisfied both parties. Evaluate the results of the conflict resolution process to ensure that it was successful.

Reflecting and Learning about Conflict

Any conflict, whether big or small, has the potential to leave lasting damage. Working with our CEO, we took time to reflect on conflict resolution – what worked and what didn’t. What could you have done differently? What did you do well? By taking the time to examine your conflict resolution skills, you can become more effective in future conflict situations. Here are some questions to ask yourself:

  • What was the conflict about?
  • How did you handle it?
  • What could you have done differently?
  • What did you do well?
  • How did the conflict make you feel?
  • What did you learn from the experience?

By asking yourself these questions, you can start to get a better understanding of your conflict resolution style and how you can improve it. Remember, there is no one “right” way to resolve conflict – but by reflecting on your own experiences, you can develop a conflict resolution style that works best for you.

Conclusion

Conflict is a natural part of any organization, but it doesn’t have to be a negative thing. By taking the time to understand the source of the conflict and exploring all of the possible solutions, it is possible to find a resolution that works for everyone involved. The key is to communicate openly and honestly and to be willing to explore the conflict from multiple perspectives.

The CEO’s offer was able to resolve the conflict between Marty and Sam, as they were both able to get what they wanted. Understanding the goals of each executive was key in being able to find a resolution that satisfied both parties. The CEO offered Marty more authority to make decisions for his team and offered Sam the chance to lead a new project. These offers allowed each executive to get what they wanted, and the conflict was resolved.

Any conflict, whether big or small, has the potential to leave lasting damage. By investing in both executives, the CEO was hoping to resolve the conflict and get them working together again. However, it’s important to note that this isn’t always possible. In some cases, the best resolution may be for one executive to leave the company altogether. It’s also important to keep in mind that not all conflicts can be resolved. Sometimes, the best you can do is manage the conflict and try to prevent it from escalating. If you’re unable to resolve the conflict, don’t hesitate to seek help from Human Resources or an external coach.

Working with our CEO, we took time to reflect on conflict resolution. By taking the time to examine your conflict resolution skills, you can become more effective in future conflict situations. Conflict resolution is a skill that takes practice, but it’s worth the effort because it can help you to build stronger, more effective relationships with others. Today, the CEO, Marty, and Sam are growing a thriving business with newly-found respect and dedication to the purpose and mission of the executive team and the organization.