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Leadership and Hidden Sources of Conflict

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One day at a senior staff meeting Michael expressed strong doubts of George’s idea to acquire another company. Michael and George started to raise their voices, much to the surprise of the rest of the management team. Michael was so angry he was physically shaking; he nearly lunged at his colleague. He knew even as he stood there that his behavior was irrational – way out of proportion to the situation being discussed.

He excused himself, went into his office and closed the door. After some deep breaths to calm down he started to write about what had just happened. As he wrote a memory seized him and he remembered an incident with his older brother (someone just like George). He was nine years old and no matter what he said he could never get his older brother to really hear him.

The two boys were always competing for being the best, the smartest, the winner.

And here he was, in this meeting feeling that his co-worker George was winning and he would end up being the younger brother who could never be first, never be listened to.

Later that day Michael took a risk and went to talk with George who had stayed in the meeting dumbfounded with Michael’s reaction.

Listening to Michael was a turning point in the relationship with the two men. Not the touchy-feely types, they were both a bit shy. However, finding out that George was not the source of Michael’s upset, was gratifying.

They made an agreement to really hear each other and when in the heat of a discussion the situation seemed to veer off course they would stop and take a break before continuing. These two men were able to find a new base line for communication. Finding new ways to support each other had a positive impact on the entire leadership team and even though the two men did not need to discuss their private conversation, the new found camaraderie created a more relaxed and more creative environment for future meetings.

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