How do leaders resolve conflict and lead challenging people?

When you have difficulty  with people you lead, whether it’s because of a negative attitude, poor performance, lack of coorperation, or some other issues, you need to start a process to address the issue before things get worse. For the process to be successful, first you need to ask yourself two important questions: Can they change?  (This deal with their ability) and Will they change? (This deals with their attitude). The answer to the above questions has to be yes before you start the process. It can’t be either / or. If people are able and willing to change, you will increase the chance to be successful. Once you have confirmed the questions – go through the following:

1. Meet privately as soon as possible to discuss their behavior: If you have a problem with someone, do something about it as quickly as you can. Sit down with them and very clearly lay out what the issue is by giving specific, tangible examples of the undesirable actions or behaviors. Be sure to explain how their actions are negatively affecting the organization, the team, or you. Don’t be vague, use secondhand reports or attribute bad motives to them because they will only get defensive.

2. Ask for their side of the story: Peter Drucker observed: “Erroneous assumptions can be disastrous”. Sometimes circumstances such as a personal tragedy are temporarily prompting unwanted behaviors, and the person simply needs help or understanding. That’s why you don’t want to go in with the gun blazing because you might be wrong.

3. Try to come to a place of agreement: At this point, it’s time to find out if they agree with you. The ideal situation is for the person to admit “You’re right. This is the problem I have’’. But when they insist that it was not their problem, one strategy is to give them some time to think about it and then meet again to discuss. When you meet them again, if they have a change of heart and agree, you can move forward to the next step. If they still don’t agree, tell them: “You may not agree with what I’ve just said. But you still have to agree to change and follow my guidelines if you want to remain on the team. And I’m going to hold you accountable.”

4. Set out a future course of action with a deadline: Whether people agree with you or not, you must lay out a specific course of action for them to take. Once again, be very specific. Indicate any actions they must not take or behaviors they must not exhibit, starting immediately. If there are action steps they need to follow through, put deadlines on them. Make sure they understand. If you both don’t agree on what needs to happen in the future, you will both be frustrated.

5. Validate the value of the person and express your commitment to help: Before you finish the meeting, let them know that you care about them and genuinely desire a positive resolution to the situation. Tell them how you will help them. Sometimes the greatest value a leader can add to other people comes through telling them the truth, showing them where they can grow, and helping them change.

Sitting down with people and telling them where they fall short isn’t easy. And there is no guarantee that they will acknowledge their problem or change. There’s a strong chance that you will have to let them go. If you are having a hard time making that decision, ask yourself this question: “If I needed to hire new people, knowing what I know now, would I hire these individuals?

If the answer is yes – keep them

If the answer is no – let them go

If the answer is maybe – reevaluate in three months

After three months, if the answer is you don’t know, then let them go. Your emotions are making it difficult for you to accept a hard decision. But as a leader, you owe it to the team to make those tough choices.

Excerpt from “Good leaders ask great questions” by John C. Maxwell.

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