What Do You Do When Both Sides Are “Right”?

conflict resolution

Recently, I was working with a group that was having severe conflict. A new director had been brought in, and some members of the team didn’t like the way he was doing things. They had a difficult time following his direction. The new director, for his part, has decades of experience and is a nationally recognized leader in his field, and he wanted them to respect his knowledge and authority.

The hardest part about this particular conflict was that both sides were kind of right. They each had excellent points, and when you listened to one side, their perspective made perfect sense. That is, until you heard the other side of it. Then that side made perfect sense, too. And it’s not that neither side was willing to yield an inch, it’s that they both believed they’d already yielded enough, and to give up more would be detrimental. It’s gotten to the point where there has been talk considering disbanding the team altogether, which would be terrible.

As leaders, this is where real leadership shows up. It’s easy to tell people what to do, and it’s easy to lead when your team simply respects your authority and follows along. But how do we address this when they don’t? How do we deal with a situation where both parties are kind of right — but neither party is willing to yield further? This particular problem felt, to me, like a microcosm of what’s happening in our world at large. Because a lot of the cultural discussion going on around us is decidedly not focused on collaboration or community — it’s focused on being right. If I can’t bend or manipulate you to my will, then to hell with you!  You’re either with me or against me. Throughout this process, I couldn’t stop thinking about that old cliche:

Do you want to be right, or do you want to be happy?

People seem to want to be right way more than they want to be happy. In fact, way too many of us seem to enjoy criticizing those that disagree way more than they enjoy seeking to understand. But ask yourself this question: Is it really a sign of weakness to move towards your ‘opponent,’ especially if it builds communication and connection, even if that movement goes against your tradition or process?

There are times when the answer to that question is unequivocally YES — I’m confident of that. But there are times when the answer is no — and I think the answer is ‘no’ much more often than we realize. Of course, it’s easier to just shut down. It’s easier to give up. This collaboration can be exhausting and it never moves quickly. But how do you fight that tendency/desire to simply get rid of those that disagree with you?  How do we teach ourselves to change?

I’m not posing an answer in this blog post; I’m just asking the question for pondering. How do we change? How do we fight the tendency to either dig our heels in or give up altogether, instead of the hard work of building coalition and collaboration with those that disagree with us?

What do you think?