Not all of what leaders struggle with are those that report directly to the team they have the privilege of leading. Difficult relationships or conversations can frequently exist in peer to peer relationships. Yet, the consequences, balance of power, and approach for managing these conversations does need to be different. The mindset with which a leader manages a peer to peer relationship should also be altered, as do it because I said so isn’t a viable option. As an aside, it doesn’t work with employees either no matter how tempting as a consideration. But, with a peer, where does a leader begin? Employ these actions and positive results will be forthcoming.
With an employee, a leader may not have time, nor interest, to dig deeper and find the real issue. Are they struggling with something more personal or responding to a trigger you tripped by accident? Both are realistic reasons for a break- down in communication or poor reaction but breaking down every detail of either is time consuming and sometimes other stuff just needs to happen. With peers or coworkers, this landscape is different. As part of a larger team, removing any unresolved jealously, resentment, harbored feelings or barriers to progress takes priority over ignoring the issue. The leader to whom both peers report will make perceptions based on how well you get along with others. What’s the real issue behind the disconnect? Was there something you did that you missed? Was there an impact from your actions you didn’t realize? Examine the relationship with the goal of finding a solution and look for options before you decide they’re just stupid. Think through past actions and possible causes for the lack of click or connection. Dig deeper to find the real issue so you don’t pay the price in your own reputation for not being able to resolve an issue with a fellow professional.
Relationships don’t typically fix themselves or just resolve over time if the problem is left alone or ignored. While your team may function just fine without you having a great relationship with your peer, issues that fester may end up becoming the reason you are held back from promotion should that peer be the next person in your boss’s position. The time is now to address the issue. Invite your difficult peer to lunch. Be willing to be humble and accept their position, even if you don’t agree with the perspective or their information. Their feelings are valid. Don’t confuse valid with accurate. Vantage points differ, and the goal is to find a way to no longer have difficulty working with this particular peer or professional. Have a conversation and remain calm, void of defensive feelings. Hear them out. Apologize if you feel it necessary and share your own perspective, calmly and rationally. The reasons stated for the difficulty by the other person may have less to do with you and more to do with them. Their maturity or experience or career ambitions may be the cause of the problem. Their lack of skill may even be an issue. Consider offering your help before you dismiss them. Consider a compromise or more clear division of responsibilities. Take action to find the ground on which you both can stand each other and work together with less difficulty.
Much as you would with an under performing team member, follow up with this peer on any actions or changes to which you committed. Your follow up here is about checking in on their perspective. You’re not begging them to like you or asking if they now approve of your actions, but assertively and professionally, calmly and objectively, seeking to touch base to confirm improvement in what was once a breakdown in the relationship. Perhaps they committed to make changes. Reconnect with this fellow leader to share appreciation for what you have seen in the way of improvement. Schedule another meeting or set up another call fairly soon after the difficulty has been brought to the surface. The mere newly established frequency of connection or communication may resolve some of the misunderstandings or misinterpretations that can occur and then fester before mutual understanding is mastered. Follow up quickly to ensure and track progress in the right direction.
With a difficult peer to peer relationship, the same elements of emotional intelligence, differences in personality, and simple communication style conflicts, exist. What differs in these relationships is also tremendously important. While you can manage to cover up a conflict among an employee on the team you lead, covering a peer problem, if they have a direct line to your own leader, is less likely. The difficulty you have in working with others on your same level will be a reflection on your reputation and your leadership. And while you may not have a need to be thick as thieves with this person or have a great deal of care in general about what others think about you or your actions, your own career ambitions and exposure to opportunities will be impacted if there are people with whom you merely cannot get along. Be wise in how quickly you dismiss a disconnect and be surprised at how truly little extra effort it usually takes to clear up misunderstandings or differences in approaches between you and your fellow professionals.
Monica Wofford, CSP is a leadership development specialist who coaches, consults with, and speaks to leaders of all levels, building their skills, emotional intelligence and authenticity. Author of Contagious Leadership and Make Difficult People Disappear, Monica may be reached at www.ContagiousCompanies.com, www.MonicaWofford.com or by calling 1-866-382-0121.