#13: How do you contribute to the problem?

Hey friend,

I hope you and everyone you care about are well.

I was thinking for a while to write about the time I conflicted with someone in my team, how we solved it, and the lessons I took from it. But I couldn't find a chance to write it down until now.

A few years ago, when I wanted to become a leader, I got a push back. I asked how can I improve myself and where do I lack the knowledge and skills. One of the first topics was conflict management because I had conflicts that I needed to solve first.

I was not seeing why I had a conflict with another person. Although the conflicts are natural and happen all the time, comprehending why it happens is complicated. I asked my managers to coach me. That coaching changed my perspective dramatically. Here, I will share what I learned during that time.

Most often, in conflicts, we focus on the other person. We think that they are the ones who have problems. They can't understand what we're trying to achieve. We wish they could have changed their perspective. But you know what, the other person thinks exactly the same for us.

Statements start with the word "you" all the time: "you don't understand," "you did this when I told you to do this," etc. We usually forget that conflicts in relationships require a minimum of two people.

To change our perspective and move from "I" to "we," we first need to identify and name the situation. Naming the conflict is the first step towards acceptance.

When we acknowledge a conflict, we lower our guards and take a step back. Confessing empowers seeing the three entities every relationship has: us, the other person, and our relationship. Naming moves our focus from the person to the relationship. Starting our sentences with "we" broaden our view.

After saying "We have a conflict" out loud, one of my managers asked me a question that shook me. I still remember the feeling. My indirect manager and I were in a small meeting cabin in the office, and we were talking about the conflict; she asked me, "How do you contribute to the problem you have?"

I couldn't answer immediately because your contribution to the conflict is unclear until someone points it out. For example, when I asked myself that question again many times, I realized that my role in the team was not clear.

My direct manager and I were working together to grow me to a team leader position, and I was taking extra responsibilities as a training. But this was not well-communicated to the team. Additionally, we had a project we had to finish, and it was delayed because of a lack of resources. I wanted to have fewer discussions and just work. I was rushing the project while our team members were relatively new and needed conversations for onboarding. So, my contribution to the problem had two aspects. First, not being clear about my growth path and rushing the project to release.

Together with my manager, we put everything together and had one big session with the whole team where we discussed the project, remaining work, and our approach to finishing it. I also explained my intention to become a leader. I realized my contribution to the conflict and changed my perspective by answering that question. I still cannot believe that it only took two hours to solve weeks of battle. Lessons learned.

So, here is my recommendation to you.

If you have difficult conversations with a person, first name the situation. What is that you're dealing with? It will help you to evaluate the conditions. When you name it, you extract yourself from the problem and observe the whole picture.

Next, ask yourself how do you contribute to the problem? Remember that any relationship has three attributes (you, another person, the relationship). Which one are you focusing on? Move your focus to the relationship and analyze how you contribute to it.

Making relationships great demands two people, and making them dreadful and desperate needs only one person.

When you explicitly realize your contribution, you tend to change your approach and be more forgiving.

What do you think? Have you been conflicted before that you even didn't realize that you conflict? How do you think this applies to you?

I am looking forward to seeing your response! Hit reply to the mail; all messages arrive in my primary inbox.

Until next time, take care.


P.S. If you are looking for a more structured plan for solving conflicts, I wrote a piece about it before. Check it out.

P.P.S. If you have conflicts more on the technical side, read the piece I wrote about how to stop endless discussions.

What I Published Over Last Two Weeks

I took a vacation and visited my family in Turkey. Although I continued writing, I didn't publish anything on my blog and instead took some time off and enjoyed the sun, the Mediterranean Sea, and the time with people I love.

However, a new episode on the Software World went live!

🎙 New Episode: Intent-Based Leadership with David Marquet

David Marquet is the author of the famous business novel Turn the Ship Around!. I had questions for David, and he was so kind to answer my questions over a podcast. I highly recommend listening to it, especially for new managers or people who would like to become managers. If you don't know the book, you can read my notes and detailed review.

End Note

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Newsletter Last Updated: Jan 15, 2022