Influencer: Conflict Management Series (3 of 4)

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conflict management 3

Have you ever seen a leader at a stand off with their team about something that the leader asked or told them to do, but the team has refused to do? Rarely does someone verbalize that they simply aren’t going to do it. The leader just sees the behavior does not change. Then, the increasingly angry leader ramps up their demands and the stubborn team still doesn’t move. The leader feels paralyzed and disrespected, but doesn’t want to resort to discipline although the team continues disregard their requests and authority. If this goes on long enough, the culture will suffer (even more) and either somebody will need to leave or something significant will need to happen.


Influencer (© 2007) by Kerry Patterson, Joseph Grenny, David Maxfield, Ron McMillan and Al Switzler is tool that you should read before getting to this point (These are the same authors who wrote the tremendously popular Crucial Conversations (2002) and Crucial Accountability (2013) books, which are resources for dealing with conflict that never get old). Its strategies are tools that you should include in your day-to-day and crisis leadership development arsenal. Unlike other leadership books that focus on making sure employees feel heard, Influencer is about trying to get into their heads to understand their behavior. As a matter fact, Influencer specifically warns against using verbal persuasion to deal with resistant behavior. The heart of the book is about harnessing social dynamics to motivate people. This is the perfect book to read with a senior leadership team or to discuss with a coach. 


Click here to take the Influencer Behavior Self Assessment!


There’s a myriad of takeaways from this book, but in order to use any of them, leaders will have to commit to doing three things first. To start, you must accept that formal authority is NOT a tool of motivation and influence. Second, you must find ways to frame challenges as “team problems” rather than as individual issues. Third, you must think beyond money to incentivize and reward people. If you can accept these, you can work with the five key takeaways below:


When change is necessary, but complex or large-scale and overwhelming:

    • Design success so that the each person on the team is responsible for doing their job as well teaching/training someone else because it forces them to work as a team. Additionally, build in mechanisms for feedback to the entire group.
    • Take in account the specific challenges of the team you’re dealing with so that you don’t overwhelm them. Manage fear by teaching microlessons and giving immediate feedback. The same applies to assigning responsibility, a little at a time with feedback is best.
    • Mistakes comes with change, so have a recovery plan for individuals and the team as a whole. For individuals, you might need to tell them how to address mistakes, i.e., “When you realize you’ve done abc, you document it, send that information to me, and move on to step 3 or start over.” It’s also important to share this information with the full team because it teaches them not to be ashamed of mistakes, helps the entire team to learn from the mistake, and adds incentive to avoid the same mistake in the future.


Discipline should be utilized as a last choice; however, when you have to, you have to. Thus, change the dynamics around discipline from fear to choice because people choose their behavior based on what they think will happen to them as a result. Fire warning shots, share the specific consequences to be levied, AND FOLLOW THROUGH. Consider this: team members typically know exactly what they’ll get if they do what is required. Whether we like it or not, people strategize. You want people be able to weigh the cost of failure and/or disengagement. You might be thinking that your formal discipline process won’t light a fire under anybody. This is where the next two take away come in.


Utilize peer pressure to get better buy-in, compliance, or follow through.

    • Ask yourself, “Who do I need to win over who can win over the rest of the team with/for me?” Find our who your key influencers or opinion leaders are and enlist them as cheerleaders. Peer pressure works on adults just as much as it does on teenagers. Nobody wants to be odd person out. So, look for people who have influence with your team who are excelling at whatever it is you need or want and figure out how to leverage them. These opinion leaders are not necessarily the smartest people on the team, but they are the people others listen to. UNLESS the smartest people on the team are extremely relatable and and embraced by the team, their endorsement might hurt more than help. Moreover, the merit of an idea does not guarantee adoption. 
    • Make it publicly known what the team needs to accomplish, who is responsible for which parts, and publicly display the timeline and process. The goal is NOT humiliation. Rather, it’s transparency and accountability. Additionally, make it clear how shortfalls impact the group and empower group members to ask tough questions about behaviors that negatively impact everyone and the goal. This also means that you need to think about how to establish rituals and traditions that minimize grudges.
    • Resist the temptation to offer large rewards to get the behaviors you want. Large rewards bring with them the risk the overjustification effect. This is the idea that you unintentionally teach people that to engage in the behavior only to the extent that they get the extra reward. In essence, when the rewards stop, the desired behavior stops.


Focus on alignment to motivate. 

  • Recognize that people need consistency between their self image and the actions they take. When there are gaps, people feel badly and like hypocrites, even if they don’t verbalize it. Thus, one of the strongest sources of motivation is moral alignment. Get to know your people so that you know what their highest and best vision of themselves in; then, don’t be afraid to point out inconsistencies between a team member’s self-identity and their behavior. Consider this: you have a team member who obviously enjoys being thought of as good at their job. The person glories in it; however, the person also fails to submit reports on time. You might try asking questions about how being good at their job connects to their perception being a reliable team member because the late reports’ impact.  Remember, verbal persuasion (fussing, or telling them that it’s frustrating to work with them) with them won’t likely work. Tap into what they care about.


Study the successful groups when you see inconsistency within your organization.

  • You’re looking for what’s called, “the vital behavior”. The vital behavior isn’t an outcome, it’s a habit, action, process, etc. that leads to the outcome. Most of the time, successes lie in what you repeatedly do. Study what the winners are doing, not just the success they’re having, and compare it what the struggling teams are doing. 

    Reward adherence to principles/values, processes, and habits instead of rewarding individual outcomes. This is how you make it safe in your culture to experiment, which is, coincidentally, how you make it safe to fail, learn and innovate. Finally, this is also how you teach your team members to share ideas.

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