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Maxwell Executive Leadership Podcast #103: If You Don’t Step Up to Conflict, Conflict Will Step Up to You

September 10, 2020
Maxwell Executive Leadership Podcast #103: If You Don’t Step Up to Conflict, Conflict Will Step Up to You

Almost every day in a leader’s life there are multiple opportunities to deal with conflict. One superpower of great leaders is seeing, embracing, and diffusing conflict before it can disrupt the team and derail the progress you are making. Chris and Perry talk today on how to do this.

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Read the Transcript:

Perry Holley:    Welcome to the John 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’m Perry Holley, a John Maxwell facilitator and coach.

Chris Goede:     And I’m Chris Goede, vice president of the John Maxwell Company. Welcome, and thank you for joining. If you want to download the show notes to follow along, Perry’s created a learning guide for you to do that. You can download that at And while you’re there, if you’d like to leave a comment, or if you have a question for Perry and I, please feel free to do that as well. Well Perry, I know I tease you a lot about these titles, but I really like this title today. It kind of grabbed me. It was like, “Man, this is true.” And us being relational leaders, I was like, “I need to pay attention to what’s going on here. It’s an area that I need to continue to grow in.” And here’s the title for today, if you don’t step up to conflict, conflict will step up to you.

Perry Holley:    Well yeah, so I figured having been a leader for a number of years, I have determined, I’m sure you have and many of our listeners will attest that in any given day in your leadership life, there are many opportunities for you to deal with conflict. You might be presenting a new change initiative. Guess what? Someone doesn’t like it. A team member makes an inappropriate comment to a client. Guess what? You got to deal with it. A team member is obviously not prepared for the customer presentation. Guess what? That’s on you. Your boss yells at you for something you didn’t do. Guess what? No, that’s on you.

Chris Goede:     That’s on you, yeah.

Perry Holley:    So, I’m pretty much a believer that the superpower of great leaders just being able to see, embrace and diffuse conflict before it can erupt and disrupt the team and derail the progress that you’re making.

Chris Goede:     Yeah, I think there’s many opportunities and I was kind of smiling as you were going through your list because there’s many other that we could add to that. And as leaders, we’re going to make the choice to go ahead and have that conversation, or we’re going to ignore it. And as Perry and I have talked about in the past, again just remember your credibility as a leader is in part how you handle some of these situations. Your team is watching you. They know what’s going on, and they know where you’re at, and so you’ve got to be able to send a clear message in the right way. We’re not saying come in and kind of command and control all the time, but there are times that you have to have these conversations because there are opportunities that are going to rise all the time. And so Perry, I’m proud of you because you went from… You always have five of something.

Perry Holley:    Yes, yes.

Chris Goede:     And, today we’re using this word superpower, which I like that. It makes me feel strong as a leader. But you developed kind of a six point strategy for us to navigate conflict in a successful way.

Perry Holley:    And yeah, and following after my idol, John Maxwell, they all start with an S. So the first one, and we’ll go through these quickly, but if you get the learner guide, download the learner guide, they’re all there for you. But S number one is separate the offense from the person. I think it’s so easy to attack the person, not the offense, and that it always makes things worse when you make it personal. And generally, if something’s gone wrong in any of those examples I gave or something else, home or at work, separate what happened from the person itself.

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Chris Goede:     I think this is so hard to do. And I want to kind of go outside of a, we’ll call it a leader professionally. Right now, let’s talk about the personal side of this, about not making it personal and to continue to be specific about the action. But I also want those that are listening as you receive conflict, try not to take it personally, right? So I was out to dinner with Mark Cole, our CEO, his wife, my wife, and both of our wives are very strong leaders. And at dinner my wife said to his wife, “Isn’t it awesome that you and I can just have a conversation and say some tough things and we know where it’s coming from, and none of us are offended” And Mark and I over there and sitting there shaking our head going, “Yeah, we’re all for that when we’re working as a team and we’re trying to conquer something else. But when it’s about me, all of a sudden it becomes personal.”

They’re not making it personal, we’re receiving it personal. So I do want to just make a comment there to make sure hey, when we are communicating it in a way we’re not making it personal, but man really tried not to take it personal as you’re going through this as well. And kind of separate maybe the growth mode from the person that’s actually giving you that information.

So, all right, here we go. The second S, See it from both sides. Can you see the offense from the other person’s point of view? Was it intentional? Was it an accident? And this is where it really, as a leader, you need to ask good questions. And I think understanding perspective is such a great teacher, as a leader, that you need to make sure you’re open and willing to listen to their perspective before diving in.

Perry Holley:    Yeah, and it’s also how you see the person. Can you give grace? Do you understand that there may be more that you don’t know, there’s more to the story that’s going on there? But I always say, “Well, let me just remove myself from it, let’s look at it from their point of view and see what they say.” Number three, the third S is Separate emotion from the mix. Again, something else really easy to say, much more difficult to do. But if you go in with emotion, the outcome’s going to be much worse because emotion generally begets emotion from other people. I’m really working on this to try and put my emotions aside and look at the facts, separate person, see it from their side and try to keep emotion out, and maybe we can keep it at a calmer level.

Chris Goede:     I love that. Number four, Suggest a way forward. It is tempting to get caught up in the nitpicking of a conflict resolution, a candid conversation going back and forth, without ever really even coming to a point of how we’re going to move forward. And leaders, listen, this is key right here. As you think about these conversations you need to have, you should have a thought process on the way forward before you even begin having that conversation. It is something that… Back to your last point of… It allow you to keep the emotions out of it. And you know the way forward that you guys are going to leave that conversation. And so I think it’s critical that you come prepared to be able to suggest that. So I love that.

Perry Holley:    Like we talked about in last week’s podcast about what’s the purpose? What’s our outcome? Is my outcome to win or be right? No, my outcome is to solve the conflict. And so if I keep that, then I should suggest be creative on ways to solve it. Number five, the fifth S is Signal positive intent. I find this to be really important that if you use words or body language that communicate negativity toward the person, you’ll establish walls that it’d be even more difficult to overcome, and assume positive intent and work to resolve the disagreement. It’s almost like seeing you with… Positive regard to me, is that I’m assuming positive intent. I want to signal positive intent by thinking we can get past this.Chris Goede:     Yeah, that’s good. Number six, the last one here for the superpowers in the S’s is that to Secure the relationship going forward, right? So not only do we have a plan going forward for the outcome of where we’re trying to get, but also to secure the relationship. There’s nothing that is more important than as a leader to make sure that you’re doing that especially when conflict arises, because they’re going to have a lot of self-doubt, they’re going to question themselves, they’re going to have a lot of negative self-thought. And you have to make sure that as a leader, you’re securing that for them. Even whether it’s a peer, maybe it’s with your leader, or maybe it’s somebody that works for you or is a junior inside your organization, just kind of up and coming, make sure that you do a good job of repairing or securing the relationship moving forward because if not, they’re going to think that you have it out for them, or maybe the leadership has it out for them.

And what you’ll begin to see is a lack of engagement from that team member. And listen, I have been coached really hard in football by some coaches that I didn’t enjoy in the moment, right? But I knew that after that practice, they were going to have a conversation outside of the moment to say, “We’re good, right? We’re okay. Man, I love you. We’re trying to make you better.” And it was always that reassurance in that relationship that made me feel better as a player and as a person with my relationship with that coach. Same thing happens right now in the corporate environment. So we cannot allow those relationships to be damaged just because we need to have a tough conversation.

Perry Holley:    Well, we would find if you’re leading almost anything you’re doing, change agent, challenging the team to new levels of performance, all the day in day outs of holding people accountable for standards that you set, it’s going to be a chance for conflict. I’m just finding that if I can put some of these six S’s into play, I can embrace it, diffuse it. I can turn that into a inspiration and actually motivation that, like you just said, “I care about you. I care about our company. I care about our team and I think we can be better.” And when people know that coming from you and they see that positive intent, we’re on our way to moving past conflict.

Chris Goede:     Yeah, we owe it to those that are taking this journey with us. We owe for them to hear that information from us, whatever it might be. And to be able to openly have a conversation, and then step outside of that and continue to grow and go about our business. And so it’s simple application for today, I’ll kind of just close with this. Perry gave us six great principles. And I would just challenge you to kind of write those six down and be looking at them as you’re getting ready to go have this conversation. We mentioned everybody listening to this right now has to have a tough conversation with somebody personally and professionally.

And so just making note of these six principles and keep them in mind as you’re getting ready to have that conversation. And if you go in with the right posture, the right heart, the right emotion, and you have a plan, maybe it’s these six, maybe it’s something different, then I promise that the end of that conversation, it’s going to end well. What do they say? I think John says that all that begins well, ends well. And I think this is it for tough conversations.

Perry Holley:    Right, very good. Thank you Chris, great comments. As a reminder, if you’d like to learn more about the five levels, see the learner guide, leave us a comment or a question. We always love to hear from you. You can do all of that at As always, we’re grateful for you joining us here. That’s all today from the John Maxwell Executive Leadership Podcast.

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