In your dreams of leadership and business, you probably picture the ideal scenario where everyone eats synergy together in the conference room and throws ideas over their shoulders to each other like glitter.

But even when things are going well, that vision can be difficult to manifest. It's not human nature for us to agree on everything, after all, and stress can make us react and behave in irrational ways. Conflicts are going to challenge you, and when they do, it's your job to play magician and make them disappear.

Doing that can be more difficult than eating soup with hairpins. And one reason is because in the heat of the moment, even if you've got some facts in your pocket, you do not really have an irrefutable truth. What you have is the perception of truth, and that perception is different for every single person in front of you. And the biggest conflicts happen because leaders fail to see and acknowledge the version of reality that their listener accepts, instead using every tactic they know to assert their own perception.

As an example, let's say you're decent at math, while Joe Schmoe struggles with it. Because you perceive math as relatively easy, you ask him to get you some figures for a project within an hour, since you know from experience that you personally could get the work done in 60 minutes. Because math isn't easy for him, however, he balks at your time constraint and accuses you of being unreasonable. And instead of talking about a solution, the conversation degrades into you defending your stance that it an hour is reasonable and him defending his stance that it isn't. Before you know it, the fight isn't about math anymore--it's personal.

In these kinds of everyday situations, nothing is going to move forward until you set your ego and hot emotions aside and ask yourself what the other person's version of reality (their perception) is. And from there, you have to ask yourself, "How do I disarm them in their reality rather than my own?"

There could be a million and one ways to answer that question, depending on the situation. But once you've figured out what proverbial wire to cut, don't stop. Take the next step, too, which is to go even deeper and ask yourself, "In what ways, if any, have I contributed to the way this person sees things?" This is essential to taking appropriate responsibility, not only so you can grow, but so you can take steps to strengthen the trust between you and the other person. And if you honestly haven't contributed to their perception, you can move forward sensitively without feeling guilty about whatever decisions you make.

As you try to navigate the many different realities around you, by far the most important thing to remember is that, while facts themselves are static and are objective by nature, similarly, no one reality is necessarily "right" or "wrong". Instead of trying to categorize or judge the perceptions, just accept that they are present. Each one is just a puzzle, a maze. You might have to go in very different directions to find a solution depending on the person you're having the conflict with, but there's always an exit. 

Published on: Oct 1, 2019
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