In a recent blog post, I shared Frank’s 10:90 Conflict Resolution Rule. This is a rule I encourage leaders to use when resolving work conflicts.

It’s easy to understand and follow the 10:90 rule. You spend 10% of your energy and attention on what happened that got you to the problem or disagreement, and 90% on what together you’ll do to fix the problem today and moving forward.

The 10/90 approach sometimes delivers fast and dramatic results. Here’s a recent example: one client of mine is a Regional Sales Manager leading a US sales team for a global pharma company.

One of her fellow RSMs has been difficult to work with. He makes excuses for his team’s poor performance (his territory ranks last in the US), skips meetings or cancels them last minute, offloads work to my client and members of her team, and has a negative attitude that’s impacting team morale. This RSM’s manager hasn’t addressed these problems (or may not know the extent of them), so my client and I agreed that she would use the 10/90 rule to try to improve things.

She began the conversation by “proactively burying the hatchet”. This works for any past grievances that may adversely impact the other person’s perceptions of you. In this case, my client was promoted to her RSM position several months after this person was promoted in 2019. It’s likely that he didn’t deserve the promotion as much as she did—and also likely that he feels slightly guilty about this.

She began by telling him, “I don’t mind that you were promoted to RSM before I was. Let’s bury the hatchet just in case this is still bothering you. I became an RSM a few months later and love my team. So I’m good, are we’re good?”

My client then shared her concerns with him saying, “You’re canceling our meetings last minute or not showing up and that means I have to cover for you; my sales reps are covering for your reps; and your persistently negative attitude is poisoning team morale. These things are not okay; let’s work together to fix them and you go first. Tell me your ideas for improving these things.”

My client and her co-worker then discussed and agreed on new approaches to address each of her concerns. Nothing magical happened while they worked things out or so it seemed. But during our next coaching session two weeks later she had exciting news to share. Their dynamic had improved so dramatically that it felt like she had waved a magic wand. This RSM was now cordial, upbeat, responsive, and engaged. Even his boss noticed a change and she received credit for pointing him to a better path.

By addressing her concerns directly, standing her ground when he pushed back, and focusing their collective attention on fixing things and moving forward, she improved her co-worker’s attitude and his performance. The best news is that she did this for a co-worker and not for one of her direct reports. This suggests the 10/90 rule can work when managing across and up, as well as managing those who report to you.

Give the 10/90 rule a try and let us know how it goes.