By Manny Roman, CRES
In a recent podcast, leadership guru Peter Bregman interviewed psychologist, author, public speaker and business strategist Dr. Liane Davey. The subject of the interview was Davey’s book “The Good Fight.” I found her comments quite interesting and enlightening and want to share some with you, with my highly astute interpretation, of course. Before I proceed, I feel a definition of conflict needs to be proposed to ensure we are on the same page.
Conflict is that discomfort-generating, solution-seeking task, which most of us try to avoid. The issue can be an internal conflict, such as how to better use our time, prioritize our work schedule, or even choosing between the salad or steak for dinner. We tend to know what should be done yet struggle to make the decision. The conflict is controlled by the good and bad devils on our shoulders that we see in cartoons.
External conflict involves other people. They will have different objectives, needs, constraints, desires, blah, blah. We need these people in order to accomplish our set of objectives, needs, constraints, desires, blah, blah. However, in order to avoid or minimize conflict we tend to not address the issue or accept a partial resolution.
The first item that really struck me from the interview is that we need to engage in more conflict, not less. This seems counterintuitive. Why generate more discomfort in our lives? Well, it seems that when we avoid conflict, we can actually cause problems. Not telling someone that they are not doing the correct job will continue the poor job. Not prioritizing your workload will cause extra work for you and for others.
An even greater negative result of being conflict averse is that it can generate what Davey calls “conflict debt.” When we avoid a conflict that should be had, we tend to mistrust the motives of the other person because the discussion never took place. We may even harbor a grudge against that individual and this is the conflict debt. We owe that person a conflict, a discussion to settle up.
Communication is key. You may have heard or read me saying that before. Establishing a line of communication first is critical to conflict resolution both internal and external. There is no communication without feedback. Also remember that great communication involves the verbal and nonverbal presentation, so it is best conducted face-to-face. Email and texting are horrible methods for communication since they contain only words where the intent is mostly left at the discretion of the receiver.
So, we need more conflict in our lives. Better said, “We need more discussion, communication and solutions-driven interactions to reduce conflict debt and its attendant mistrust.” The issue is that we have a backwards approach to addressing conflict. We normally attempt to reach the solution first which tells the other person that we want our idea, our truth, to be foremost toward the end result. That is how we get into those adversarial situations that cause us such discomfort.
So how to best approach the upcoming conflict? Establish a good communication process where feedback is highly encouraged. Prepare to use proper verbal and nonverbal cues that encourage trust and confidence in each other. Let their truth be reported first to let them know that you are truly taking their view into consideration toward the desired outcome. Validate each other by active listening and providing signals that demonstrate that each point of view is important to the solution of the issue. Be allies in generating the mutually acceptable outcome.
Framing is a way to present an idea in such a way that it involves the other individual in an emotional way; tagging the emotion to the presented idea. For example, if you can generate a connection between what you want and what they want, you are a long way to consensus. If you both want to make sure that the outcome enhances the efficiency of the department, you have a common focus and the discussion can then follow that path.
Now I have a few words on trust. We should be working on trust at all times. Since trust is basically an emotional state, it is critical that we work on emotional connections. Let’s not wait until the needed conflict to try to generate trust. Spending a few minutes with others in a non-threatening and personal conversation works wonders. The trust process can be enhanced by the mutual sharing of some minor personal vulnerabilities. I am deathly afraid of spiders, even more than my fear of snakes. There, I shared this with you and placed myself in a vulnerable situation. You respond in kind and we begin the trust process.
Now, I trust that I will not receive live or fake spiders from the two of you who made it to the end of this boring column.
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