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Maxwell Executive Leadership Podcast #104: Five Strategies for Upping Your Conflict Game

September 17, 2020
Maxwell Executive Leadership Podcast #104: Five Strategies for Upping Your Conflict Game

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. Hi, I’m Perry Holley, at 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. Just as a reminder, when we get started if you would like to download the learning guide to this podcast, it’s a one page guide, provides some of the highlights of our conversation today, or if you just want to leave a comment or question, maybe it’s something that you’re dealing with as a leader that Perry and I can help address moving forward, please visit, and we would love to see your comment and your notes there and be able to help you lead your team. Well, I mentioned on the last podcast, I was giving Perry a hard time about he kind of deviated… He’s all excited. I can see him over there. He’s all excited about getting back to the number five. I gave him a hard time, quite a bit. He always has content for us in series of fives, but it’s good. We like it. And so we’re right back at it today. And the fives have come back because today’s topic is entitled Five Strategies for Upping Your Conflict Game. So we’ve been talking about it over the last two podcasts, and we have one more after this that we’re going to kind of dive in. We’ve been talking to leaders about how to deal with conflict. And so, man, I cannot wait to dive into this episode.

Perry Holley:    Well, I can tell you for a fact that if people are involved, there will be conflict.

Chris Goede:     That’s right.

Perry Holley:    You can go ahead and tweet that if you want. If people are involved, there will be conflict. And in full disclosure, I’m here with my wife, give us an amen on this, I have not always handled conflict situations correctly, but I have been working as part of my growth plan for the last year or so. I’ve been… I don’t know if you’ve ever heard of this. Ryan Holiday has a book called The Daily Stoic, and it quotes Marcus Aurelius, Seneca, Epictetus, all the philosophers of the ancient days. And they all had something to say about how we can communicate when relationships are tense. And I find that it’s not just a work thing, it’s a home thing, it’s a life thing. And so I was looking at five strategies that I’ve used personally, and I wanted to share those. You ready to go?

Chris Goede:     I’m ready.

Perry Holley:    Can I jump? All right.

Chris Goede:     I’m ready. Let’s do it.

Perry Holley:    Strategy number one, don’t assign meaning to what someone else has said or done. And I said, this is where things come off the rails so quickly, for me, it was, is that when we take something that someone said or something they did and we assign the meaning to it, it generally it was attached to some emotion to that. So you just did something. I assigned what it meant, and that may or may not be true. And so I think, if I can remove that and just let it be, I can come at it in a more calm and direct fashion.

Chris Goede:     Yeah. I absolutely know what you mean. And I think this is tough to do, but I think it’s the first step and even having a conflict resolution. And so I love how we’re talking about upping your conflict game because I think if you have a mindset of saying, “Okay. The first thing I need to do is to confront that person,” and the word confront comes with a negative connotation, right? But maybe it’s ask that question, ask the person, “Hey, what did you mean when you said that? I just want to make sure that we’re on the same page.” I know that that would help a ton for me around clarity because I take information at times, and I process it different than how they meant it. So then it maybe hurt my feelings and maybe then I don’t feel like I’m adequate enough, when, if I just would have asked a clarifying question on the front end, not confronting, “Hey, can I just ask you a clarifying question on the front end?”

I know you guys have probably heard if you’ve listened to John tell the story about when people come up to them, and they’ll be like, “You know the book you wrote, The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership, well, I disagree with a couple of the laws in there.” Right? And John never, never skips a beat, doesn’t let them bother him. He’s like, “That’s okay.” So he has grown in this area of not interpreting other persons’ meanings and what they were saying versus, let’s say it was me and I wrote a book, I’d be like, “Oh my gosh, what do you mean? Like-

Perry Holley:    Yeah, what do you mean?

Chris Goede:     “Is it not good enough? Do you hate…” You’ve written a book or two-

Perry Holley:    What page is that on?

Chris Goede:     Yeah. Yeah. What page is it on? What do you want me to fix? What do you mean? And so I think the biggest thing is here is before we take it personally, let’s make sure that we back up a little bit and just ask a question about what do you mean by that so that you can get to the root cause of what’s driving it.

Perry Holley:    Strategy number two on upping your conflict game is don’t rush to judgment. This goes back to something we’ve talked about a while back about unconscious bias, that we assume we know the reasons and we know the person, so we judge them based on what we know about them and what we’re assuming about some things. And I have this bias that, unconscious to me, I’m making a quick judgment. And so I’m always looking to… If I can identify, become self-aware, “Wait a minute. I just made a judgment about a person based on something I saw, something I heard, something I interpreted. Can I back away from the judgment side of things?”

Chris Goede:     Yeah. And when you do this, because we do all have an unconscious bias to do this, and we make a judgment about somebody, one of the first things you probably tell yourself, and because I’ve been there, is I’m like, “Well, I’d never do that.” Right? In capital letters, never. And so man, just be careful. Before you have that conversation with yourself and you place judgment that person, you need to back up a little bit because once you have that, it is going to be so hard for you to remove that judgment. It’s so difficult to get it back on track on where you need to stay focused because you’ve already kind of placed that judgment in your mind. And so when you judge, you place a burden of proof on the other person to make things right to where, “Hey, now it’s up to you to prove to me that you are right or to reverse this judgment.” While they may indeed need to make things right, it’s better to suspend that judgment and work through it versus go ahead and placing the judgment on them right away.

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Perry Holley:    That’s right. Strategy number three, I call it mind the gap. When I’m in London, I always take a picture of that on the platform for the subway there, the tube.

Chris Goede:     Oh yeah.

Perry Holley:    Mind the gap. But the gap I’m talking about here, this will serve you well in all communication, is that between someone saying or doing something, some stimulus that comes at you from someone, and your either reaction or response, if there’s no gap, it’s usually a reaction. The bigger the gap, there’s usually a response and it’s more thoughtful. And I’m finding, I get a lot more mileage out of being thoughtful and responsive versus just instantly reacting to something. And my reactions are generally not that positive and make things worse. My responses, a little more thought out. And so I think, if I could just have that thought when something comes at me from my spouse or from a child or from an employee or from a partner, just mind the gap.

Chris Goede:     Yeah. There’s no doubt that getting your mouth out in front of your brain can be problematic. And I think we all have done that a time or two. And so we need to make sure that we do mind the gap. And I love this thought process going into having a tough conversation with one of your team members because you don’t have to say everything that you’re thinking about in the moment.

Perry Holley:    That right there saved my marriage, that one concept. We should do a podcast on it. What? You don’t have to say everything you think.

Chris Goede:     And then we’ll just remove our wives from the list if they listen. That’s a different conversation, right? But there’s something else that I think as leaders we need to be doing, that we’re in the gap, and it’s like, what are the things that I need to be looking for in regards to this situation? What are the consequences, right? What are the circumstances? What are the facts? When you think about minding the gap, it made me think about… When you brought this point to light, it made me think about, I am an analyzer by trade. So I default to a little more processing, maybe more than I should. Maybe my gap is too big, right? But there are some that don’t have a gap at all. But we do need to have a gap.

Maybe think about purchasing something like a large purchase. And for me, I have to just kind of like sit on it, right? Like I got to mind the gap of making that decision. And then once I make the decision, I feel adequate in making that decision. And so what I want to make sure is, don’t allow the gap to discourage you or to keep you from having this tough conversation. Right? You got to have the conversation as a leader. But as Perry’s talking about here with minding the gap, I think there’s a lot of wisdom that will happen in your preparation and the delivery of that conversation, if you’ll mind the gap. And I love that principle. I love that thought.

Perry Holley:    So strategy number four, it’s another one I found challenging, but I love it, is that can you express unconditional positive regard? And that’s how you see people, how you see someone will determine how you interact with them a lot of times. And if you can have unconditional positive regard for people, even when they mess up, conflict occurs, or you see them… see you in a positive light and work through the challenge. We talked on a previous podcast about kind of removing the person from the event, whatever happened and whatever it caused the conflict. And I see the person positively. And I just find that when I’m talking to someone, I said, “I know we have a problem, but I know you are good. I see you positively.” And they may prove themselves… They may prove it otherwise, but I’m going to give them unconditional positive regard right off the bat.

Chris Goede:     Yeah. There’s no doubt that how you see someone will totally determine how you treat them in times of conflict. John’s a big believer and has kind of built our organization around putting a 10 on people’s heads, right? Scale of one to 10, like, “Oh man, like you’re a 10.” And I think that as that number… As you allow that number to drop and you have doubt with people, you will have candid and tough conversations in the wrong way with them. And so when you said that, let me back to the three things that John says as leaders we should do with people in general, all people that we have influence with. And he’s like, “Hey, we should value them. We should believe in them. And we should unconditionally love them as people.” People are our most appreciable asset in our business. We cannot do what we do in any of our businesses if we don’t have a team of people. And so when you begin thinking about the perception you have of your team, that’s where I would start. And I would make sure that you check that, make sure that it is to your point at the highest level because that will then drive how you’re going to have that conversation with them. And I think it’s crucial in how you do that.

Perry Holley:    Well, number five, the final one, would be, and I wanted to get this… I thought about you, but we talk about this one all the time is that realize there’s almost always an intention perception gap.

Chris Goede:     Always.

Perry Holley:    You want to explain that one?

Chris Goede:     Yeah. Maybe not almost always. Maybe we should just say always. At least when I’m communicating, it absolutely is. And so… It made me think about Brian Tracy commented where each of us need to take responsibility for understanding and for being understood, right? So there’s two things that we’re going to talk about with this IP gap here. And Greg Cagle, one of our facilitators, really started talking about this quite a bit when we were doing a training around discovering your authentic leadership style. And all of us have different styles and we’re all wired differently. And so while as it’s our flesh, it’s human nature, we all judge ourselves by our intent behind anything that we do, which for me just seems to be I should be batting a thousand. I don’t know. My wife thinks completely different. My team members probably think completely different too.

Perry Holley:    I think you’re batting a thousand.Chris Goede:     No. I think they know, not think. But then we judge other people by their actions and how we perceive them. We never take time to understand the intent behind what’s driving another individual. So that’s one side. The other side is, is that as leaders we come in and we want to communicate because we have good intentions behind it, and we never think about the perception of how that’s going to be received on the other side. So back to your mind the gap. This is another gap right here, right? And this is an intention versus perception gap that we need to close. It’s our responsibility. If we’re driving the conflict resolution, we’re driving and we’re trying to up our game, we better figure out how to close that gap. And here’s what I want to encourage you to do.

All right? I want to encourage you to just use this language that Perry and I are talking about today around intent versus perception when you get ready to have a tough conversation. And here’s what I want it to look like. Let’s say that Perry and I are in a situation where I need to have a tough conversation with Perry. By the way, I clarified by saying, Hey, what did you mean by that comment on the broad end? Like we talked about early on. But then we had to just have this conversation, and how I want you to approach it is, “Perry, hey. I know your intent was not this,” whatever the situation may be. “However, my perception is… Or the team’s perception of you is this, and there’s a big gap there. Can we talk about that?” And if you’ll just make that statement and ask that question and just be quiet, you will get a ton of information on where the true issue is coming from them in that conflict that you guys are trying to solve.

So just by using that language, that common… We talked about common language all the time. Just by using that language, will put them at rest, will back them up a little bit and not come screaming at you versus if you decide to go in, “Hey, I got to pick a bone with you…” And then they come right back at you. So anyways, I could teach on that. I love the intent versus perception gap, but I’m so glad that you brought that up here because you need to be using that. If you want to up your conflict game.

Perry Holley:    Well, I find the people that you are in closest relationship with, and if you’re doing like the five levels and you’re building relationship with your team, obviously in your home, that’s your closest relationships on the planet, we tend to assume other people’s intention and think that they get ours. So I’m thinking if I could just slow down, mind that gap, back up, have positive intent, and really don’t judge, kind of bring all five strategies into one to say, that’s where most of the conflict is going to come from is that gap of intention and perception. How can we overcome that to do that? So if you’re a leader, you’re going to have conflict. It’s just the way it’s going to be. And so I hope you can put these to use. Why don’t you wrap it up for us.

Chris Goede:     Yeah. It’s inevitable that we all need to have these conversations. I don’t need you looking for these conversations. They’re going to… Believe me, they’re going to show up, and you’re going to have to have those conversations with your team members. Great leaders are going to come and are going to grow from having these tough conversations. Perry has given us five strategies to be able to do this. What I want you to do, identify… Just like I said in the last podcast, identify somebody that you need to have a candid conversation with. And then I want you to go in, and I want you to have the IP conversation, right? The intent versus perception gap conversation. I want you to start off just like Perry and I were talking about a minute ago, “Hey, I know your intention is not to do this. However, my perception is this. Can we talk about this a little bit? Because we got to have this conversation.” And just have a conversation. Don’t overthink it, respect the individuals, learn from their perspective, go through these five strategies, but more importantly, have, as you wrap up, have that intentional versus perception, the IP gap conversation with the individuals you need to have.

Perry Holley:    Fantastic. Well, thank you, Chris. And thank you all for joining us. That’s all today. But if you would like to go to You can leave a comment or a question for us there, learn more about the five levels or download the learner guide. We’re always grateful that you joined us. This is all today from the John Maxwell executive leadership podcast.

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