Conflicting interests are unavoidable within an organization. Although challenging, aligning conflicting interests is necessary for effective decision-making. Executives and shareholders all tend to have the common objective of company success, however, each individual may have a different set of criteria and incentives that determine what constitutes success. Recognizing these differences in interests to promote success, is important when navigating a situation in which there are many conflicting interests at hand.
Examples of conflicts that arise from parties with competing incentives include:
- Sales teams only receiving their commission checks once a client has been onboarded by the onboarding team and the onboarding team wanting to be thorough in the client onboarding processes. The onboarding team is incentivized to be thorough while the sales team wants to get their commission as quickly as possible.
- Customer success teams receiving feedback from clients in terms of what technological features need to be created to best support the client and then disseminating that information to the technology team and ask the technology team to prioritize this feedback. The tech team is incentivized to complete the tasks on their roadmap and the customer success team is incentivized to keep the client. By adding a new task on the tech team’s plate, they now have to figure out where this goes in priority order compared to their other tasks while the customer success team thinks it should be their number one priority.
Steps to approach conversations when parties have conflicting interests include:
- Create a flexible strategy
It is important to recognize personal company goals and strategies that will be used to achieve them prior to meeting with others to discuss future initiatives. This self-reflection period ensures that all ideas are articulated clearly in this environment with differing interests. After developing goals and implementation strategies, it is important to identify areas of flexibility within these strategies. Even when plans are thoroughly suited to achieve personal goals for the company, it is likely that there will be areas that require adaptation to best incorporate the perspectives of others.
2. Define and understand each party's interest
Prior to or at the beginning of a meeting it is important for each party to articulate their interests. Creating this understanding early on will allow everyone to have some common ground and know why others' interests are a certain way. Certain factors may contribute to these interests, such as organizational policies, deadlines, or resources that are applicable specifically to an individual's role. Being conscious of these different parameters for other's decision-making will encourage a more empathetic environment.
3. Develop open communication and active listening
Respectful communication is pivotal when managing conflicting viewpoints. Creating open communication will allow for clarification of ideas, voicing concerns, and considering other perspectives in order to formulate the most effective solutions. Open communication also consists of encouraging everyone to contribute. If someone hasn’t contributed much to the group discussion, invite them to share their ideas to ensure everyone is on the same page.
During the discussion, be mindful of utilizing active listening habits. Taking notes (if appropriate), providing nonverbal cues, and maintaining eye contact is incredibly important in signaling to others that their contributions to the conversation are valued. Failure to actively listen to others may prevent them from being receptive to ideas later shared.
4. Identify shared goals
To unify a group, it is helpful to recognize what commonalities exist. Within an organization, everyone tends to have similar hopes for future success for the organization as a whole. While the methods to achieve this success may vary, articulating this common goal can help emphasize that everyone is doing their best to fulfill this shared purpose.
Being willing to be flexible and negotiate can help to manage these differing interests. Sticking to a rigid predetermined set of demands will only lead to a stand-still. Compromising on aspects of a plan demonstrates to others that collaboration can help achieve the best possible solutions for all parties.
Developing innovative solutions may also be a way to best fulfill everyone's needs. It may be possible that all presented solutions aren’t able to properly achieve the best outcome for the group. In that case, brainstorming and innovating can help create a brand-new plan that wouldn’t have been achievable without the input of the whole group.
6. Finalize and implement solutions
When determining the final solution, reiterate the conclusions made to double-check that everyone has reached a similar understanding of the future steps. Ensure that these final plans are in writing and shared with everyone involved in the conversation so they can be referred back to it. Having a finalized document with this consensus will make the implementation of the solution more efficient because it can help to ensure everyone is taking action in the appropriate manner.
It can be incredibly difficult to manage conflict without the proper knowledge of personal conflict management habits and other strategies that are suitable for handling conflict. Incorporating conflict management instruments can help to develop optimal strategies for navigating conflicting interests. The Thomas- Kilmann Instrument
is an assessment developed to determine ways to improve personal conflict management strategies. After completing the assessment, individuals will receive their evaluation of overall assertiveness and cooperation during conflict scenarios. From this placement, they will be provided with different strategies to improve their conflict-solving skills. Identifying areas of personal improvement can be difficult, so utilizing an assessment tool that is dedicated to identifying areas to develop for handling conflict can be incredibly valuable.
Joining an Executive Mastermind Group
where you can have a group of peers share their feedback on your situation and provide suggestions can be a great opportunity to best prepare to handle these situations.
Managing conflicting interests can also be utilized as an opportunity for growth. If a meeting wasn’t as productive as anticipated, it can be a time to reflect on personal negotiation skills and different approaches to improve upon communication and cooperation in later discussions.
Aligning conflicting interests can also be achieved through more preventative measures. Building capacities to prevent conflicts of interest can work to ensure leaders are on similar pages. This can be implemented through changing metrics in which different departments are evaluated or even in-depth discussions to develop a shared framework for company growth. Implementing training activities to develop strong cooperation and strategies for compromising can also be beneficial to prevent stagnant conflicting interests going forward.
It’s important to keep in mind that aligning interests doesn’t mean 100% agreement at all times. Oftentimes, compromising leads to outcomes that fulfill everyone's needs to an extent, but don’t fully achieve what they sought out to. Leaders need to know how to best align these conflicting interests to prevent impasse and achieve organizational success.