Why You Should Stop Avoiding Conflict in the Workplace

Why You Should Stop Avoiding Conflict in the Workplace

By Liane Davey

I was recently hired to help a group of doctors work through their issues and get their business back on a growth trajectory. They aren’t talking much. They’re barely making eye contact. After only a few hours, it’s clear to me what’s wrong. I share my diagnosis: “You need more conflict.”

It’s the last thing they expect me to say. They’re already in agony dealing with the smallest decisions. Each meeting is an excruciating cocktail of trepidation, anger, guilt, and frustration. How could they possibly need more conflict?

What they don’t realize is that they’re mired in all those negative emotions because they’re unwilling to work through them. As long as they avoid the topics that are creating anger, guilt, and frustration, they’re stuck with them. There are many topics that they haven’t discussed for years. They’ve tried every way to go around the contentious issues, but now they need to go through them.

THE IMPORTANCE OF CONFLICT

The doctors are not the only ones who avoid conflict. Most of us have been raised to think of conflict as a bad thing. Conventional wisdom holds that conflict is bad for productivity and corrosive to trust and engagement. But that view is totally at odds with how an organization works.

Conflict isn’t bad for organizations: it’s fundamental to them. After all, you need to be able to work through opposing sides of an issue and come to a resolution in the best interest of customers, shareholders, and customers–whether you’re on the shop floor or the boardroom. Conflict is part of strategic planning, resource allocation, product design, talent management, and just about everything else that should happen in an organization.

Unfortunately, most humans don’t embrace conflicts. Rather, we avoid, postpone, evade, duck, dodge, and defer them. The result is conflict debt.

CONFLICT DEBT

Conflict debt is the sum of all the contentious issues that we need to address to move forward, but remain undiscussed and unresolved. It can be as simple as withholding the feedback that would allow your colleague to do a better job, and as profound as continually deferring a strategic decision while getting further and further behind the competition.

The doctors I worked with are in conflict debt. Each time they avoid the discussions, debates, and disagreements that they need to have to get their business growing again, they sink further in. Think of it like financial debt–when you use credit to buy things you otherwise can’t afford. You want something, maybe even need it, but you don’t have the cash at the time, so you use credit. You rationalize to yourself that you will pay it off as soon as you get your next paycheck, but if you’re like 65% of American credit card holders, you carry that balance over from month to month. The debt mounts, and over time, it gets harder and harder to get out just from under it.

THREE UNPRODUCTIVE WAYS PEOPLE DEAL WITH CONFLICT DEBT

As with financial debt, conflict debt starts innocently. An issue comes up that’s a little too hot to handle, so you defer it. You promise yourself that you’ll revisit it when things are less busy, or when cooler heads prevail. You buy yourself time and space. But days pass, and no spontaneous resolution materializes. Instead, the issue becomes more contentious. Suddenly, you’re in conflict debt. You’re feeling anxious, and you find yourself steering clear of your colleagues to avoid having to confront the issue. (Have you ever taken the long way around the office so you don’t run into a disgruntled coworker?) You’re feeling frustrated at the lack of progress, not to mention a little guilty for your role in the stalemate. Conflict debt weighs you down.

Avoiding the issue is only one path to conflict debt. Another is to avoid the opposition. In this case, you broach the topic but exclude people who might disagree or cause tension, surrounding yourself with those who agree with you. You focus on how friendly and productive the discussion is, deluding yourself that your solutions are going to fly with the people who you strategically disinvited. But pretending the opposition isn’t there won’t make it disappear. It will resurface when your opponents kill your plan or, worse, leave it to fail.

There’s a third way to get into conflict debt–avoid the friction. Even if you discuss the difficult subject, there’s still room to get yourself into trouble if you veer safely away from the distressing parts of the discussion. When you make it clear (either intentionally or inadvertently) that nothing antagonistic should taint your conversation, you start to rack up conflict debt. I see this all the time when, just as the discussion gets perilously close to the crux of the matter, someone suggests they “take it offline” to avoid having to deal with the conflict. Everyone smiles and pretends that they’ll actually come back to it at some point–when in reality, they’ve just stifled dissent.

Are you avoiding the conflicts that your organization requires you to work through? If so, you are setting your organization, your team, and yourself up for trouble. When you’re unwilling to work through uncomfortable situations, you stretching your resources thin, stifling innovation, and allowing risks to go unnoticed. On your team, the aversion to prickly conversations forces strong performers to compensate for weak ones and mature people to put up with immature ones. At an individual level, you’re probably burning out from the stress.

When your conflict debt gets too high, it becomes overwhelming. You’re exhausted by the thought of trying to pay it off. You’ve destroyed your credit rating with your boss and your coworkers by letting these issues go unresolved for so long. But don’t give up–there are many things you can do to get out from under your conflict debt. That starts with embracing, and not avoiding, conflict in the first place.

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Meet Liane

For the past 25 years, Liane Davey has researched and advised teams on how to achieve high performance. Known as the “teamwork doctor,” she’s worked with teams from the frontlines to the boardroom, across a variety of industries, and around the globe from Boston to Bangkok. In working with hundreds of teams, including 26 Global Fortune 500 companies (and counting), she has developed a unique perspective on the challenges that teams face – and how to solve them.

Liane’s clients include Amazon, Walmart, TD Bank, RBC, Bayer, KPMG, Aviva, Maple Leaf Foods, and SONY Interactive Entertainment. Liane has experience and expertise across a wide range of industries, but with each client, she customizes her keynotes so that her audience feels like she “gets” them and has been working within the organization for years.

The Good Fight

 In the modern workplace, conflict has become a “dirty word.” After all, conflict is antithetical to teamwork, employee engagement, and a positive company culture. Or, is it?

The truth is that our teams and organizations require conflict to get things done. But, as humans, we avoid conflict and build up conflict debt by deferring and dodging the difficult decisions. Our organizations are paying the price – becoming less productive, less innovative and less competitive. Individuals are paying too – suffering from overwhelming workloads, endless drama, and sleepless nights.

In The Good Fight, Liane Davey shows you how to create the productive conflict your organization needs to get along and get stuff done. Drawing on her 20-year career as an advisor to the C-Suite, Davey shares real-world examples and practical tools you and your team can use to handle even the most contentious conflicts as allies – instead of adversaries. Filled with strategies you’ll use again and again, The Good Fight is an essential field-guide for leaders at all levels.

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Let us know your thoughts on this week's guest blog in the comments.


Vacations and Breaks Exist for a Reason

There’s a reason that breaks and vacations exist. Both provide the opportunity for us to gain or regain perspective. Both give us the opportunity to energize, re-energize and gain even greater clarity.

In my world, things move quickly and there’s never a lack of goals, achievements or objectives to accomplish. Many times self-induced, the pace of my days is consistently faster than slower. It’s how I’m wired and I’m grateful that this is how I was created. I’ve learned to embrace it and stopped apologizing for it a long time ago. It’s not for everybody, which is good, because this isn’t everybody’s life.

To take on each day as a new day and not rehash the day before is a view I value. It’s more about bringing a fresh perspective to a new day than it is about not reflecting on what occurred in previous days. In order to maintain a fresh perspective, breaks and vacations are a requirement, not an option.

In order to write well, you learn to value consistency. Writing coaches have told me that in order to become a better writer, I need to write between 500 and 2,000 words a day about anything. I just need to write. The same could, and should, be said about most things that we look to master. We must value the consistency of the practice and the work.

And yes… believe it or not, consistency also relates to knowing how to take breaks and vacations well. Not a view I understood for many years and one I’ve come to appreciate. Why? Not solely because of age or wisdom, but rather because of me knowing me. It’s about my own self-awareness. After all, the better I am to myself, the better I am for you.

The value of simple logic that makes sense is based on one thing...SIMPLE. I’ve often thought that the following sign should literally be hung outside my head on the front of my face. (Got the visual?)

“BRB. In order for me to be the best version of me, a break/vacation was required.”

A bit of a different approach; let me encourage you to think beyond boundaries about what you just read.

So, here’s what’s happening. I’m going to take a vacation and I’m going to take a writing break from Thoughtwave. During the month of June, I’ve lined up four people to contribute their thoughts and perspectives through their writing. Each guest has selected a topic and view that’s unique to them individually. Each person is at a different stage or place in their life and/or career. I trust you’ll enjoy reading what they have to share.

I’m looking forward to reconnecting with each of you in July with even greater clarity and energy around my writing and around Thoughtwave.

Be Authentic. Be Purposeful. Make it Meaningful
Brent

P.S. The guest bloggers will be revealed on my Instagram (@PerpetualDevelopment) today!


Your Salespeople Better Be Business People or Your Business May Be Out of Business

The breadth, knowledge, and ability of your salespeople equal the breadth, knowledge, and ability for them to grow the business. If you want to improve the performance outcome of your sales team, you must first educate them about the business and develop their complete awareness between their decisions and outcomes in sales.

A given? Not at all. Salespeople are expected to do one thing... SELL.  Far easier said than done. In many cases, salespeople are unaware, under-equipped and unsupported in their quest. A lack of a focused approach around teaching them the business of the business will likely leave them unfulfilled and under-performing against the target or expectation.

Thoughtstarter

The mandate to “just go sell” is far easier said than done.
Why do you think this is and what do you think about this statement?

Salespeople as Business People

The leaders of sales teams would be well advised to invest in developing their salespeople to be business people. The days of having a sales manager/director/team leader do everything for a salesperson prevents growth rather than maximizing opportunities. Having someone else do what a salesperson should have the awareness, skill, and presence to do supports a lack of accountability and a lack of performance.

The leaders of salespeople and sales teams need to have a focused approach around increasing the awareness and knowledge of their salespeople connected to the business. This is the process of developing salespeople as business people.

Here are five characteristics of sales teams where their business knowledge is advancing sales growth.

The Sales and Business Behavior That’s Expected is Rewarded

Incentive and bonus compensation are directly connected to the performance that’s expected. They aren’t used to try and manage salespeople. Expected behaviors are defined and the incentive is the result of demonstrating those behaviors.

Beyond Price, the Salespeople Consider Margin in Relationship with Customers

Each investment that’s made has an expected rate of return. Considering customers in relation to profitability is no exception. Every customer deserves to be treated well. Every customer should not be treated the same. Knowing the true profitability of each customer is important to salespeople who think like business people. Here’s a primary question they’re asking - “Who in my territory/area is costing me more to do business with than if I weren’t doing business with them?”

They’re Defining a Complete Business Relationship

They recognize that if it’s only about the transaction, there’s no true depth or mutual business respect in the relationship. This is about having the necessary conversations dealing with the complete business dynamic (credit, turns, marketing expense, etc.) rather than just the sale.

Selling Isn’t Done In Isolation

Beyond the people that make it complex, the number of variables that have to be dealt with in sales and business is only increasing. No matter how local, business is truly global. If a salesperson doesn’t understand the potential variables throughout the world that can impact their world, they will be selling in isolation and doing so at their own peril. Maximizing awareness and not selling in isolation comes as the result of educating salespeople at a higher level and knowing that they have the capacity and demonstrated ability to turn that into forward-thinking conversations with customers.

They Understand the Total Picture of the Business

What happens in the business landscape most often has a direct connection to the sales landscape. Think about the number of times something has occurred outside of your business that had an impact on your business. Did you later realize that this was something you should have seen coming? Think about each of the points above and ask yourself how you see those impacting your salespeople and your business.

It’s imperative that salespeople understand their role as business people. A failure to do so means that the future of your business is at risk, both in terms of sales growth and sustainability into the future.

Be Authentic. Be Purposeful. Make it Meaningful.

Brent

P.S. Let me know your thoughts in the comments.


The Void - Offboarding

We exist in an era in which the leaders of high-performing family businesses have become highly purposeful with the onboarding and integration plans for people that are joining their company. Their focus stems from the intent and desire to engage and connect people with the culture of the company and decrease the chances of someone becoming disengaged or choosing a job-hopping departure.

Uniquely, these same leaders seem to have forgotten about the other end of the equation and that has resulted in large numbers of people, most of them over the age of 60, choosing to keep quiet about any and all plans to announce that their career focus is changing or coming to an end.

According to Bersin by Deloitte, the average cost per hire is almost $4,000. Statistics on offboarding are far more difficult to identify. Experience has shown me that if it’s not being measured, it’s likely not getting done.

The Void

The leaders of privately-held and family-owned businesses must plan for, and deal with, the end of career process (offboarding) as seriously as they do the beginning (onboarding) otherwise, they will face a potentially catastrophic outcome that I refer to as The Void.

The Void  is the empty space created by leaders of companies who fail to establish a process for transferring the large amount of internal knowledge possessed by key people to the next generation of leadership.

Left undefined, this void creates a massive disruption to the business of the business.

Conversely, when clearly thought through, offboarding should be viewed as the catalyst for performance, knowledge and generational continuity within the high-performing environment.

A Key Step

Offboarding should be viewed as a key transition in the life-cycle of individuals who have contributed significant knowledge and value to the company.

Within family businesses, closing the gap on The Void begins by looking at the situation through a different lens. Instead of focusing on this career phase as a conclusion with limited conversation, it should be seen as a phase of definition with expanding dialogue and knowledge share between generations.

#Thoughtstarters

  1. How are you consciously expanding the conversation and knowledge share between the generations?
  2. How are you defining and practically capturing internal knowledge from key people while they’re still a part of your company?
  3. Define knowledge sets that are held primarily with one person in your company. Begin purposefully expanding the circle of people who have awareness, understanding and knowledge on those topics.

How are you avoiding The Void? Let me know in the comments.


Wildly Crazy Success

We’re in the midst of the holiday season and with this time of year comes the anticipation of receiving cards, either in your inbox or your mailbox. Which are your favorite to receive? The long letter with the update on life? The photo card bringing memories of family and friends? The stock card with a personal message?

I like cards and letters that are real. Those that are personally written, have meaning and give value to relationships.  I’m not a fan of those that get sent as a gesture or requirement and have no message other than trite generic words that are imprinted by a machine. It’s like telling someone that you thought of them but gave no thought about what you wrote to them.

I keep this in mind every week when I write Thoughtwave. I want each TW to have meaning and speak to our community of readers. Thoughtwave was started with the intent to create a positive disruption that differentiates. It’s not about being mainstream or contrarian. It’s about being real in a way that will never be allowed to become generic.

In 2019 I look forward to bringing you topics that are the most relevant to you. Many of you have asked me to write about a specific topic that’s important to you and that’s exactly what I’m going to do throughout the year. Here’s a sample of Thoughtwaves from topics you’ve suggested.

  1. How to Handle the Black Sheep in Business
  2. The Business of Family Business: Why debt and stress go together.
  3. Branding Your Business
  4. Retirement? Yes or No? Knowing When to Go.

And so much more.

Whether you’re a new manager, mid-level or senior manager, or you own the company, I’m devoted to bringing you useful information.

My appreciation for your readership is perpetual.

I encourage each of you to send me a topic to write about that’s important to you. Think of one of the biggest challenges you faced professionally this year, especially within family business. Because you’re going through it, someone else is too. Let’s work together to continue to create a community of leaders and readers who cause privately-held and family-owned  businesses to thrive. Email your comments and ideas to me directly at:  Brent@PerpetualDevelopment.com

Your ideas and thoughts are full of potential. Especially when you use your perspectives and thoughts to expand your awareness and the awareness of others. Your ideas matter and I’m listening.

Together, let’s create WILDLY CRAZY SUCCESS. However you define it.

Enjoy the holidays and I’m going to do the same. Thoughtwave will be back shortly after the start of the new year.

Talk to you in 2019!

Be real. Be purposeful. Make it meaningful.
Brent


The Final Quarter: Thoughtwave Highlights

It’s the final quarter… of 2018. It’s hard to believe, isn’t it? In preparation for Q4, we’re sharing our most popular Thoughtwave editions from earlier this year. Check out one you may have missed, or give them all a read with fresh eyes to see how you can purposefully attack Q4.

  1.   My Communication Pet Peeves
    June 12th
    Brent explains his top three communication pet peeves and why they are HIS problem, not yours.
  2. Communication or Manipulation? Can You Tell the Difference?
    April 24th
    Brent discusses “be real or be gone” and the differences between communication and manipulation in leadership.
  3.  Are We Seeing the End of Meaningful Differentiation Among Sales Professionals?
    February 21st
    Brent discusses differentiation among your sales professionals and gaining mindshare with your customer.

Looking for more as you head into Q4? View the Thoughtwave Archive here. (Rhyme included, but not intended).View all of them by clicking here.

P.S. What is your favorite Thoughtwave? Let us know in the comments.


Professional People Watching

*Highlighting different perspectives makes every business stronger. Alyssa is chiming in with a guest post this week.

My boyfriend and I go to the same Mexican restaurant almost every Saturday. You can expect it to be filled with tourists, locals, lifers, and us. Not only is the Mexican food some of the best in town, the restaurant is set up perfectly for people watching.

If there’s one thing that our weekly dive into a basket of chips and salsa has reinforced for me, it’s that people are strange. We’re complicated beings that express ourselves in intricate ways that are difficult to decipher. This fact is inevitable because the reality of interaction is that everything comes down to our own perception.

It’s for this reason the best leaders are excellent people watchers—they become masters of observation and thus navigate situations with greater awareness. They collect the normally untouchable data points to paint a more accurate perception.

Harnessing the Power of Observation

Watch without judgment.
This is hard because it can be fun to guess what people are thinking and feeling as you watch without the proper context. When you observe while purposefully limiting your own bias though, your observations are more actionable. It’s the difference between placing your own value on an action and purely observing an interaction.

For example, it’s not uncommon for us to see people flailing their arms in the air, passionately telling a story while sitting at Matt’s. And in those instances, it’s easy to think, “That woman must be upset, she’s being so forceful in her motions,” versus thinking, “That woman uses hand gestures frequently.” The latter carries less bias.

The same goes for work, if you see a co-worker drawing in a notebook during a meeting do you instantly think they’re distracted, or do you observe further to see if maybe they’re taking a visual note?

What perceptions do you normally place on common observations? How might that be hindering your perception of reality?

Use your observations to ask the right questions.
Even better than observing without judgment, is observing with the intention to ask the right questions. It’s like the saying goes, “when you assume you make an ass out of you and me.” Observing shouldn’t be about making assumptions, it’s about gathering available information to be able to show up to conversations with greater awareness and insight.

Observe intentionally.
We have a tendency to react based on one situation/response we observed. If scientists did this, studies would be wildly insignificant. Instead, they keep detailed field notes to track observations over time. Rather than casually observing, be intentional. When you casually observe, you’re only picking up on details that trigger a response or reaction in you. When you’re intentionally observing you are looking to test a theory and then reflect and analyze your observations. At its finest observation is a cycle of analysis.

Observation is power.

The more observant you are, the more awareness you have when navigating situations. As a result, you can apply your insight and adapt your behavior to meet the needs of the person you’re interacting with.

Thoughtstarters

  1. Do you people watch as closely at work as you do outside of work?
  2. Are you using observation to your advantage or passively moving about your environment?
  3. Are you asking questions after making observations or merely making assumptions?
  4. Pick a person to observe this week. Think about what you learned. How can you adapt your behavior based on what you learned? How did your observations change your point of view?

Want to share your thoughts? Have a great story about observation? Or maybe just a great story about Mexican food? I'd love to hear from you in the comments.

Make it a great week,
Alyssa


10 Mistakes to Avoid in Handing Down a Family Business

    1. Not making the time to plan early enough.
    2. Making decisions to fill key positions with family members based upon emotion and bias, rather than an actual “fit” for that position.
    3. Placing close relatives into these key positions without first getting an objective assessment to verify the inherent skills to be acting in those positions.
    4. No development program in place to advance the individual performance of your people to sustain the profitability of the business.
    5. Merely dividing business equally for distribution to several family members, without understanding that this is likely to lead to conflicts or discord, cascading into personal family problems.
    6. Holding onto the reins and refusing to let go, and waiting too long to turn over areas of responsibility.
    7. Keeping family members on the payroll that are not performing, particularly in any key position.
    8. Not trusting a chosen family member to have the skills necessary to make decisions and to advance the business when it is time to take over a leadership position.
    9. Never “really” retiring, but running or interfering with the business from outside, or continuing to show up and run the business after claiming to have turned over responsibility.
    10. Making the plan for business succession without outside guidance from a professional with an objective perspective, and without a clear strategy to implement the transition.

Family owned businesses can gain a distinct competitive advantage and sustained profitability if the business transition is planned objectively rather than emotionally.

Connect with Perpetual Development to understand how you can implement a cohesive strategy for transition.