It should be safe to assume that leaders inside a retail enterprise are all interested in achieving the same goals. It is likely safer to assume that leaders exist who don’t believe this to be true. However, the stress associated with handling the day-to-day operations of the organization can make it easy for leaders to convince themselves that marketing leaders only care about marketing, operational leaders only care about the numbers, sales leaders only care about sales, and loss prevention leaders only care about catching thieves and securing merchandise.
These dangerous perceptions create in-group vs. out‑group mentalities that make it far more difficult to accept new ideas, unlock hidden values, and collaborate with people who we deem “aren’t like us.”
Astute leaders develop approaches that help them override these potentially destructive beliefs to collaborate with their out-group counterparts and solidify commitments to achieving shared goals. Below are five techniques leaders can apply to unlock hidden value from conflicting perspectives:
Give yourself a reason to care. The unfortunate truth is that we won’t listen to anyone without believing we have a good reason to do so. You don’t have to like the person, their idea, or their approach—you just have to believe that listening to them, and collaborating with them, will lead you to a better outcome than ignoring or arguing with them. Hopefully, your reason to care focuses on achieving strategic company goals. If the situation doesn’t align with these greater goals, your preferred outcomes may include meeting a deadline, positioning yourself for a promotion, setting yourself up for a future compromise, improving your reputation, or even reducing your stress levels. Rest assured, if you can’t give yourself a reason to care, you won’t be open to uncovering new alternatives to find success with your counterparts.
Align your actions with your preferred outcomes. Our actions are often driven by our need to remain consistent with our self-images. If you tell yourself “She doesn’t understand what my team does and I’m too busy to educate her,” you position her as an ignorant outsider, and yourself as the righteous and busy insider. Likewise, if you tell yourself “That’s a marketing problem, not mine,” you separate yourself from the marketing department and any actions that may support them. Whereas if you tell yourself “I’m responsible for applying my expertise and perspective to solve problems for this organization” you label yourself as a collaborative leader and any steps you take to educate, assist, compromise, or collaborate with marketing will fall in line with your self-image.
Accept the role your counterpart is playing. Remember, people often behave in accordance with their self-images. If someone is being rude, defiant, inflexible, or demanding, that is likely a reflection of how they believe they need to act in order to achieve their goals. As misguided as these beliefs and actions may be, don’t get mad. Accept that this is the role they believe they need to play and adapt your approach based on this new perspective. Your ability to adapt will reduce the resistance you encounter and create new avenues for achieving your goals.
Encourage your counterparts to protect their self-image. The wider the gap between what we ask someone to think, say, or do and how they see themselves thinking, speaking, or acting, the harder it will be for them to accept our ideas. Your conversations shouldn’t be about winning—they should focus on securing the best outcomes for the organization. If your counterparts feel that their department’s needs should be prioritized, there is no need to try and convince them otherwise—such arguments are both typically unwinnable and distract from the outcome you’re seeking to achieve. Remain calm and turn their opinion into the reason they need to commit to achieving your goals.
Frame your answers around accepted outcomes. When you are working to persuade leaders from different business functions, don’t start with your idea, start with the outcome. It is often difficult to argue against an outcome that is clearly beneficial to the organization. Once they align themselves with the outcome, present your idea as a method that satisfies their needs while achieving the critical end result. Motivation is arguably the biggest key to listening and collaborating with people we disagree with. Neither party is likely to engage with the other without the necessary motivation.
Leaders who take the time to adjust their own perspectives while also avoiding attacking their counterparts’ perspectives are much more successful in solving problems and establishing relationships across business functions.