How to Manage Peer Conflict

Direct Energy CIO Kumud Kalia on how to deal with mounting peer dissension

Direct Energy CIO Kumud Kalia on how to deal with mounting peer dissension.

Q: I'm getting into more conflicts than usual with my business peers. What's going on?

When the economy is shrinking and there is competition for resources, tough decisions will result in more tough conversations. You have to cut budgets, people and projects. Any one of those is going to piss people off. They will see you as the person forcing this change on them, downsizing their organization or hindering their ability to generate revenue.

In these situations, you need to seek common ground and treat the other party with respect. Don't present things as a fait accompli. Though the outcome may be predetermined, the path to get there isn't. CIOs are problem solvers; we get a mandate, put a plan together and say, 'Right, I know how to do this.' But we actually have latitude, so we should listen and allow the other person to participate in the decision on how to get to the end goal.

Q: How can I deal with someone who I'm butting heads with now?

Don't seek to be the winner. If there is a winner, then there is also a loser, which encourages turf battles and leads to more dysfunction. Try to understand why the other person is thwarting you. What do they want, and can you help them achieve their goal while you achieve yours?

I once fell out with a colleague, and it was a relationship I never got the chance to repair because I left the company a few months later. It was just after the dotcom bust, and the conditions and resulting behaviors were similar to what we have today with the housing bust, banking collapse and resulting recession. A colleague owned an innovative part of the business, which he was trying to grow. But I was told to freeze everything and not to launch anything new. I thought he got the same message as me, which he did, but he thought it didn't apply to him. What I didn't understand was that he was trying to gain new revenues to preserve jobs within his team. He never took the time to explain that to me; I just assumed he was stubbornly not on board. If he had articulated his reasoning, I could have helped him take that to others who might have ruled in his favor. In the end, he just got smacked by his boss. He was guilty of not explaining his hidden agenda, and I was guilty of being too committed to a course of action to consider alternatives. It's something I still think about in similar situations.

Kalia is Direct Energy's CIO and Executive VP, Customer Operations, and a Council member. E-mail topics or questions for mentors to connect@cio.com.

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