“95% of the time, two smart people with the same goals and the same facts will come up with the same plan. So I tell my team to spend their time figuring out if they have the same goals and the same facts before arguing about what to do.”

That’s a gem that came from a senior executive I was working with in a team effectiveness session last week.   It’s a simple and profound statement that’s worth sharing because it provides great wisdom in how we think about resolving conflict. We need to spend less time fighting about the outputs of our thinking and more time gaining insight about the inputs.

Aligning Goals

The first half of his equation is your goals. If you and the person you are in conflict with don’t have the same goals, it’s no surprise that you aren’t advocating for the same course of action. Start by gaining clarity on what each of you is trying to achieve, and then work toward a common goal.

There are lots of good questions to get at your colleague’s objectives. “What is this about for you?” “What are we solving for?” “How will we know we’re successful?” As your colleague shares her answers, you should also provide your answers to the same questions. The answers will expose the official story about what you are each trying to achieve. That’s valuable information…

…But it’s not the whole story. Dig a level deeper toward motives that haven’t been articulated (and be prepared to share your implicit goals too). “What worries you about this project?” “What’s at stake here?” “What do you personally need to have happen through this project?” That’s the stuff that is more likely to trip you up than the official goals of the project.

Then start bringing your goals together. “At the highest level, what is this about for both of us?” “What would make this project a success from the CEO’s perspective?” “What would it look like if we are both successful?”

That conversation will go a long way to ensuring that you are working toward the same objective.

Checking Facts

The second half of my client’s brilliant equation is having the same facts. Even if you are in complete agreement about what you’re trying to accomplish, if you base your plan on different data, you won’t agree on the course of action. Make sure you know what information your colleague is basing her recommendations on.

Ask simple questions to collect an inventory of the relevant information. “What information have you been looking at?” “How are you building your recommendation?” “What data do you think are relevant to include?”

But here’s where I’m going to take some liberty with the goals + facts equation. You also need to factor in how your colleague is evaluating and weighting the information. If she gives no credence to a particular piece of data, it might explain why you’re coming to different conclusions. Try questions such as “Which of these do you think is most pertinent?”  “How much credence do you give to this report?” “How do you factor in Bob’s point of view on this?” Just because you have access to the same facts, doesn’t mean you are using them in the same way. Coming to an agreement on how you will use the facts will be a big help.

The vast majority of the time, if you have the same goals and the same facts as your colleague, you’ll agree on a plan. So instead of fighting over your different recommendations, try putting your effort into aligning your goals and checking your facts.

Further Reading

How to Take the Sting out of Conflict

When Conflict gets Emotional

4 Secrets of Avoiding the Conflict Spiral

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