Navigating the Terrain: Finding Common Ground with a Difficult Peer

In any professional journey, encountering difficult peers is almost inevitable.

Whether it’s a clash of personalities, diverging work styles, or simply a misunderstanding that has snowballed, these challenges can significantly impact your productivity and workplace harmony. Recently, I was coaching a woman who has been a leader in her organization for 15 years and suddenly her newly promoted peer started questioning every decision she made. She doesn’t want to be seen as unable to work with this peer and needed help. Through coaching, a number of ideas surfaced to help her navigate this challenging relationship. Here are some strategies she came up with that may also to help you find the common ground with a difficult peer.

1. Embrace Empathy

Start by putting yourself in their shoes. What pressures are they facing? Could external factors be influencing their behavior? Understanding doesn’t mean excusing their actions, but it can provide valuable context that transforms your perspective and response. Empathy is a powerful tool in de-escalating tensions and fostering a more inclusive environment.

2. Communicate Openly and Assertively

Effective communication is the cornerstone of resolving conflicts. Approach your peer with the intention of having an open, honest conversation. Use “I” statements to express your feelings without placing blame. For example, saying, “I feel overlooked when my ideas aren’t acknowledged during meetings,” rather than, “You never listen to me.” This non-confrontational approach encourages dialogue rather than defensiveness.

3. Seek to Understand Before Being Understood

Listen actively to their side of the story. Sometimes, we’re so focused on getting our point across that we don’t truly hear the other person. By genuinely listening, you may uncover misunderstandings that have fueled the conflict. Plus, when someone feels heard, they’re more likely to reciprocate that openness.

4. Identify Mutual Goals

Despite your differences, there’s likely some common ground in your overarching goals – whether it’s the success of a project, the well-being of your team, or the growth of the company. Highlighting these shared objectives can shift the focus from personal grievances to collective aspirations.

5. Leverage Mediation

If direct communication doesn’t lead to a breakthrough, consider involving a neutral third party. Sometimes, a mediator – whether it’s a supervisor, HR representative, or a professional mediator – can offer new perspectives and facilitate a resolution that respects both parties’ needs.

6. Practice Patience and Persistence

Finding common ground doesn’t always happen overnight. It requires patience, persistence, and sometimes, the willingness to agree to disagree on certain matters. What’s important is maintaining respect for each other’s viewpoints and continuing to seek collaborative solutions.

7. Reflect and Learn

Every conflict offers a learning opportunity. Reflect on what you’ve learned about yourself, the other person, and how you handle disagreements. This insight can be invaluable in preventing future conflicts and strengthening your leadership skills.

8. Prioritize Self-Care

Navigating conflicts can be emotionally draining. Remember to take care of yourself throughout this process. Whether it’s taking time for your hobbies, practicing mindfulness, or seeking support from friends, family, or a coach, self-care is crucial for maintaining your resilience and well-being.

Work with me

Finding common ground with a difficult peer is not just about resolving a single conflict; it’s about building a foundation for more effective, empathetic leadership. If you need some help navigating a difficult peer, click here to find a time so we can discuss how I can help you with this issue.

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