Navigating Conflict Resolution in Cybersecurity Leadership
How great conflict resolution skills help cybersecurity leaders drive better results
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Conflict is the very essence of cybersecurity. With cyberattacks having the potential to bring down companies of any size and even entire governments, it’s an inherently touchy subject. Cybersecurity leaders must develop strong conflict resolution skills to help drive progress and better protect the companies and people they work with.
Any conflict situation comprises two basic dimensions – assertiveness and cooperativeness. We can further break these dimensions down into five core methods of dealing with conflict:
- Avoidance – you walk away from the conflict
- Competition – you’re set on satisfying your own needs
- Accommodation – you let the other person win the argument
- Collaboration – you work together to find a win-win scenario
- Compromise – you lose some, and you win some
When it comes to cybersecurity outcomes, there’s often no room for compromise. But that doesn’t mean there won’t be some things you can compromise on in the journey towards the desired outcome. In other situations, it might be better to walk away and revisit the challenge later. Neither of the above is inherently wrong, although it depends on the situation. However, most would agree that collaboration is the best approach to achieving better outcomes.
Cybersecurity executives are widely viewed as competitive; leaders of the department of no who exist solely to lay down restrictions in the name of better information security hygiene. Overcoming this stereotype is one of the biggest challenges you’re likely to face, but it’s essential for today’s security leaders, who are tasked with driving a culture change as much as a technological one. To do that, they need to respect their adversaries and understand the challenges they face.
Here are the eight most important rules of conflict resolution:
Rule 1: Empathize with the conflict source
Many people still assume that the roles of cybersecurity managers are purely technical. While technical expertise is a key part of the job, more important is the ability to communicate effectively. Different business leaders have different concerns. Marketers are concerned with spreading the brand message, sales teams want to drive revenue, while accountants need to keep their ledgers in order. To empathize with such a wide range of business needs, security leaders need to understand their concerns and be able to walk in their shoes.
Rule 2: View conflict as an investment in progress
A lot of people see conflict as a bad thing that they’d rather avoid. Others take the opposite approach, even to the point of thriving on conflict and using it to assert their power. With such lofty matters as cybersecurity, either extreme is bad news. Rather, leaders should view conflict as a sign of progress. After all, no one ever achieved something amazing without some friction along the way. Managing conflict correctly can reveal fresh opportunities and bring personal wisdom.
Rule 3: Start over before things get out of hand
In matters as complex as cybersecurity, misunderstandings are almost a given. Sometimes, the problem is even complicated enough that one or even both sides of the argument might even lose track of the conflict basis. When that happens, it’s easy to go off on a tangent and end up achieving nothing. However, before things reach this stage, it’s a good idea to take a step back and start over. In more complicated situations, it may help to get a fresh perspective from an outsider when you start over.
Rule 4: Remember conflict is a sign of diversity
Another important positive of conflict is that it’s a sign of diversity. Few great achievements are the result of one person or one set of perspectives alone. The world’s greatest innovators have all, to some degree, piggybacked off the successes and failures of their predecessors. It’s no different in cybersecurity, and no one can claim to know everything there is to know about the subject. If everyone on the team has exactly the same opinion, then they’re either poorly informed or lack the wide range of insights needed for the project to succeed.
Rule 5: Learn to walk away from conflict
The more confrontational among us hate the idea of walking away from conflict, but there will be situations where the timing or situation isn’t conducive to having a constructive argument. Sometimes, a conversation goes in completely the wrong direction to the point it’s impossible to get back on track without escalating the situation. Unfortunately, there’s bound to be some occasions when both sides are never going to see eye-to-eye, even if you are willing to start over.
Rule 6: Reduce the anger level
No good decision was ever made out of anger. It’s important to walk away - take a step back - from conflict at hand before negative emotions take over. A perfect example is when someone has a complaint to make. Being the result of negative feelings, whether justified or not, complaints are often made out of unjustified anger. Unless the complaint is of an urgent nature, it’s good practice to avoid engaging it until a certain amount of time has passed. That way, most of the complaints born of irrational anger will go away.
Rule 7: Avoid dwelling on conflict
When something’s bothering you, being able to take your mind off matters is easier said than done. In cybersecurity leadership, this can be especially difficult given how situations are often urgent in nature. As such, the usual advice like using distractions to your advantage may not be the best approach. Instead, try to reframe the situation and use the time to focus on positive thoughts. Keep the desired outcome in mind, but change your approach towards solving it. A change of scene can help, as can getting a second opinion from a friend or colleague. But, no matter what you do, don’t fall into the trap of dwelling on the negatives.
Rule 8: Engage people directly
You’ve no doubt heard the expression too many chefs spoil the broth. We’ve all experienced situations where things get lost in translation, and it’s a fact that many conflicts are born purely out of misunderstandings. That’s why you need to engage the conflict source directly and cut out any relays. This won’t just reduce the risk of the message becoming garbled; it will also reduce the time it takes to reach a desirable outcome. Remember, a cybersecurity leader’s job is, first and foremost, about building relationships and good communication. That’s only going to happen if you’re engaging directly with the right people and challenges.
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