Most organizations do. And when managers have conflicts, or ineffective work relationships, these problems not only affect their performance and results, but multiplied in other areas of the organization.

If they’re department heads, which they are often are, their arguments often result in lowered cooperation and productivity between their teams. 

Even team members who want to provide their counterparts with assistance may refrain from doing so because they take their cues from the boss, and don’t want to offend him or her.

The losers, of course, are other departments; clients or customers; and the organization itself. To say nothing of setting a bad precedent that others may follow.

While some concerns and obstacles are inevitable, we still need good communication and cooperation on and between all levels of the organization; continuous workflow; and improved productivity. Minus needless frustrations and delays.

Because reducing and eliminating conflicts, ineffective communication, and strained working relationships between managers (and other peers), and their departments are so essential, why aren’t more of them resolved a lot sooner?

In my work with organizations over the past 25 years plus, the main reasons managers often don’t resolve these situations with their peers are these:

  • They fear getting a negative reaction.
  • Or, they wonder if they’ll get less cooperation.
  • They might get typecast as a complainer in the organization.
  • They simply don’t know how to do this.
  • What they’re tried before hasn’t worked.
  • They perceive that the other manager, or peer, is more highly regarded by upper management.

Such conflicts and obstacles can be successfully resolved when skillful and effective, respectful, and mutually-beneficial communication takes place.

Here are the basic steps I’ve taught managers, directors, board members, and executives in other organizations to use:

1) Start the process as equals

Approach the other manager or peer as an equal, letting them know that you have a request for them, and that you’re open to receiving a request of theirs.

You’re being upfront about what your purpose is; your request is made politely and respectfully; and both of you are positioned as equals because both of you get to make a request.

2) Describe the situation and the result 

For example, if their department has been changing procedures without first discussing them with your department, share this information with them, and the result it creates in your department. Such as confusion, delays, and so forth.

3) Suggest a potential solution and the result

Request what you’d like them to do differently, and the improved results it will create. 

Avoid simply using the opposite of the results in step #2. Instead, mention their broader impact, such as reducing response times to customers, improved departmental performance, fewer meetings, etc. 

4) Open the door for discussion

Open the door for discussion by asking them, “How does this seem to you?” 

Notice how this also helps to position the two of you as equals because you’re asking an open-ended question about their thoughts and needs.

They may or may not agree, which is okay. This provides an opportunity to dialogue, in order to devise a mutually-beneficial agreement. Much, if not most of the time, this is exactly what happens.

5) Thank them and make a return offer

When they agree to meet your request, as many of them will, thank them. 

Then ask if they if have a request for you or your department. This last step “closes the loop,” and demonstrates that you’re communicating as equals. 

Plus, it helps set up a reciprocal way of working in the future: both of you make requests; dialogue when needed; and gain. 

Some managers hesitate to do this step, fearing they’ll get impossible or outlandish requests, but I’ve never known this to happen.

This skill or process is also effective when used by one or more teams, departments, or individuals.

The true test as always, is this: if another manager, or one of your peers, has a concern they’d like to approach you with, isn’t this how you’d like them to do it?

Using this communication skill eliminates unnecessary and costly obstacles; fosters collaboration and cooperation; improved customer service; and more enjoyable work environments.

It’s what happens in more productive workplaces.

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