• Thrive Inc.

Conflict: It’s Not What You Think

So often, people believe conflict to be yelling, hurt feelings, and being mean to each other, but that’s not how we see it. In the corporate culture in which we work, people are friendly to each other, but that doesn’t mean there’s a lack of conflict. Quite the opposite - there’s conflict brewing, they’re just not addressing it!

Many teams we work with don’t want to accept there’s conflict in their organization and will do anything they can to brace against it. But conflict can be a great thing, and facing it can help teams work together more effectively. In the workplace, there’s a collective responsibility to support each other and perform well, and dealing with conflict can trigger a performance catapult.

Tune in this week where we’ll explain why liking each other doesn’t mean there’s no conflict. We’ll show you how to get past the discomfort and appreciate the beauty of conflict and why those who allow themselves to be vulnerable are the ones who grow, expand, and can influence more in the organization. It’s time to learn and grow!

If you want to make a difference for either yourself and your career, or your team and your organization, be sure to reach out to us and sign up for coaching! We can come and do a book club or simply visit with your team! Don’t worry about physical limitations – we work really well virtually, too!

If you enjoyed the show, please share the podcast with your family and friends, or post a five-star review on iTunes. Rating and reviewing the show helps spread the word, which means less friction and suffering for everyone, and who doesn’t want that?

Listen on Apple Podcast | Stitcher | Spotify

Learn More:

  • Why so many people are afraid of conflict.

  • What vulnerability-based trust is and how we develop it.

  • Why peer pressure can be a good thing.

  • Why having rules doesn’t avoid conflict.

  • How conflict can enhance team performance.

  • Why so many people avoid conflict.

  • How to see the beauty in conflict.


Full Transcript:

CrisMarie: Welcome to The Beauty of Conflict, a podcast about how to deal with conflict at work, at home and everywhere else in your life. Hi, I'm CrisMarie.

Susan: And I'm Susan. We run a company called Thrive, and we specialize in conflict resolution, communication and building strong, thriving teams and relationships. Conflict shows up in our lives in so many ways. Most people, unfortunately, are not very good at handling conflict. Most people have never been taught the right tools for dealing with conflict, and then it leads to unnecessary friction, arguments, passive aggressive emails, tears, hurtful comments, stuck-ness, all kinds of things we don't want. We're on a mission to change all of that.

CrisMarie: We've spent the last 20 years teaching our clients how to handle conflict in a whole new way. We're here to show you that conflict doesn't have to be scary and overwhelming. With the right tools, you can turn a moment of conflict into a moment of reinvention. Conflict can pave the way into a beautiful new system at work, a new way of leading your team, a new way of parenting, a new chapter of your marriage where you feel more connected than ever before. Conflict can lead to beautiful things.

Today we’re going to talk about conflict. It’s not what you think, because too often people think conflict looks like yelling, hurt feelings, people being mean to each other. And that’s not what we see as conflict. Sure, that’s a part of the spectrum, but more often in corporate cultures and business teams, people get along.

They’re too sophisticated and so there’s a lot of niceties, people are friendly. And there’s still a lot of things brewing that they are not really addressing. So instead of talking to each other they have a lot of one-on-ones or they take things offline, or they work around difficult people. What do you think Susan?

Susan: I think people think that if their group likes each other. That means there is an absence of conflict. That’s not necessarily the case and actually sometimes makes it even harder to recognize when there is conflict. Because the last thing you want to do is bring something up. And what seems like a pretty good comfortable team make it uncomfortable.

CrisMarie: Because we like to get along, we like to belong and not bring things up. But what’s happening is things are brewing under the surface. And so rather than speak directly to you, I’ll talk to the boss one-on-one, and then maybe they’ll talk to you. Unfortunately that erodes those relationships and that sense of trust because the leader usually says, “Well, someone said, Susan, that you weren’t getting things done on time.” And you’re like, “Who told on me? Why didn’t they come to me directly?”

Susan: And even when we’re working with a team, and we sort of introduce that idea that you want to have peer pressure. People immediately they are like, they have all sorts of reasons why that is not a good idea. We are people who know our jobs. I shouldn’t be the one that has to tell so and so that he doesn’t know how to do his job.

CrisMarie: He’s an adult; I shouldn’t have to do that.

Susan: And that’s what we mean by being fairly sophisticated. We’re not saying you have to tell someone they do their job wrong, but if you see some behavior they’re doing getting in their way, you want to be able to actually say, “Hey, what you’re doing here isn’t working for me.” That could be a form of conflict.

CrisMarie: And yeah, when we work with a team we usually will take some time to help them develop some vulnerability based trust, introduce the idea of conflict, even though they are bracing against it at the beginning. Talk about commitment and holding each other accountable for behaviors, and that’s when we talk about this idea that Susan’s saying is, “Hey, the leader has to speak up what’s not working.” But then you want this peer pressure for each other, for you to share, “Hey, I don’t think actually how you handled that meeting is working.”

Because if you don’t as a team member have your team member’s back, it’s going to erode into the rest of the organization.

Susan: I think a lot of times, companies, and cultures and teams want to have rules so that then they know that, you know, what they’re supposed to do. But in a lot of times when you have a lot of rules there’s a good sign that is to avoid the conflict.

CrisMarie: And that usually comes from those rational smart people, if we only have the rules, the process, the tool. And of course we provide many of those things. But that’s really all, because usually the person or people are too uncomfortable to actually speak up and say, “You know what, I disagree with your point of view. I don’t think that’s a good direction to go.” Because a lot of times they think, well, I’m going to be throwing them under the bus, or I don’t want to make them look bad.

And it’s like we’re talking on a team, we’re not talking about humiliating this person in front of the organization. We’re saying, “Hey, you’re a smart person, I’m a smart person and I think we need to talk about this because I don’t think this is the best direction for the business.”

Susan: I think one of the biggest challenges comes back to the word ‘vulnerability’, even Brené Brown who continues to bring it into the culture and out into the world, often has to go back to saying, “Well, we’ll just call it courage.”

CrisMarie: Well, that’s what everybody wants her to do but she won’t.

Susan: She does keep bringing it into the mix.

CrisMarie: She says, “Hey, if you want to call it courage, tell me a time when you were courageous that it didn’t involve you being vulnerable.” And vulnerable meaning exposing yourself to emotional risk, discomfort, danger. And that is true when you’re being vulnerable. And a lot of times, business leaders, it’s kind of like don’t let them see you sweat. But it’s eroding the connection that you’ve having on the team and we work in the context of a team and then broaden that out to the organization.

But on that team you want those real relationships, because teams that work together usually make better, faster decisions, they engage the ideas of everyone sitting around the table and they usually have more fun. The problem is we’re messy fallible creatures so you get enough of us in a room; we’re going to step on each other’s toes, even if we’re not going to admit it. And inadvertently insult each other, just by us being us, not because we’re trying to do that.

Susan: This is where we are trying to get a different appreciation for conflict. Instead of seeing it as painful, uncomfortable, difficult, see it as creative, a possibility. This is where the juice is and that is a different perspective. And when you actually get to that juice, well, every once in a while that when you get beyond that and you start to see the possibility, it’s a lot easier.

And over and over again we have seen, you know, we go in and a company might tell us, “They went along with us and did all the work we wanted to do, to talk about in terms of doing the vulnerability based trust and working on it.”

CrisMarie: Which is just like styles and getting to know each other a little differently, it’s not really touchy, feely or scary.

Susan: Yeah. And they were like, “We don’t really think we have any conflict.”

CrisMarie: No, they basically said, “We don’t have conflict.”

Susan: And we were like, “Okay, well, let’s just dive into one of your business issues.” And they were talking about how they make decisions.

CrisMarie: Well, that was the over – how we manage our work.

Susan: How we manage our work.

CrisMarie: And it immediately went down into a tool of discussion, like the project management tool.

Susan: And the decision they had made about a particular project management tool, then they were questioning it now whether it was the right tool or not. And they were spending 45 minutes talking about the tool.

CrisMarie: So what was going on is that tool discussion was masking a disagreement between a couple of team members, because one team member had gone rogue and used a different tool. And nobody had held him accountable or spoken up about it until now, but kind of not very directly.

That’s why they were going like, “I think we chose the wrong tool.” Versus, “You know, Frank, I see you’re using that other tool and we agreed not to do that, we were going to use this main tool, so what’s going on?” That took; I mean until we actually unpacked it, that’s where we eventually got to. But that conflict was being kind of masked by we chose the wrong tool.

Susan: And so why we say that is if you notice that you keep coming back to a decision you made and discussing maybe it’s a tool, maybe it’s a particular project, maybe, you know, pay attention to are you having the right conversation with the people right there in the room? Instead of going back in time and talking about we made the wrong decision.

CrisMarie: This is a clear sign, I really want to highlight this, listeners for you, any time you go back to circling back to a decision you made. It’s usually because you didn’t have the right level, basically of conflict, meaning honest discussion where people are disagreeing about that decision. And people went silent, agreed to the decision and then went off and did their own thing. Can you relate to that in your businesses? Because I’m going to guess you probably can.

Susan: Now, the other classic way this shows up when we go into an organization is whenever you’re sort of talking real broadly about the whole culture. You may not realize that you as a team could make decisions about your own team, even if the culture isn’t that way.

CrisMarie: Often people are using the culture as, well, you’ve got to excuse me because I live in this culture and so I can’t do it. So it’s kind of abdicating responsibility. And we keep coming back to, “Hey, you’re on this team, and the relationships you form on this team in this room with these six, eight, ten people, you can actually tolerate a different level of honesty.” Because when you can develop that and drop in and trust these people to have the conflict, your team is going to really catapult in terms of performance, because you’re going to be talking about the real things.

You know when you’re not really talking about the real things, you’re taking things offline or, “I don’t want to throw people under the bus.”

Susan: That’s a really important one to talk about. I would say 90% of the time when you say – when you hear yourself saying, “I don’t want to throw my teammate under the bus.” You need to step back and say, “I am not giving my teammate honest feedback.” And let’s take it a step further, “I’m not watching out for their back. I am going to let them fail.” If you start to actually look at it from that perspective, or if you really think about your own experience and someone was watching you drowning, wouldn’t you want them to give you some feedback, even if it was a little painful to hear?

CrisMarie: And I think Susan, tell me where I’m wrong, but I think people don’t do that, not because they don’t want to throw the person under the bus. It’s because they don’t want the person to be upset with them, or they don’t want to feel the discomfort and that vulnerable risk to say, “You know what Susan, I actually disagree with how you’re doing.” Or, “Susan, I didn’t think you handled that meeting well, because I think you interrupted everyone and you didn’t give people a chance to talk. And so you didn’t get real feedback.”

I would want to hear that from you as my peer versus just continuing to be the emperor without any clothes on and making a fool of myself.

Susan: I agree and I don’t know if people are really willing to say, “It’s because I’m uncomfortable.” But you guys, we’d love to hear from you, we could be way off.

CrisMarie: Tell us, if that fits for you, if you avoid conflict, I tend to make it about well, I don’t want Susan to be upset with you. And it’s really I don’t want to deal with Susan being upset because I am uncomfortable when Susan is upset.

Susan: Okay, I’m glad to hear you say that. Now, here’s another example of when this comes up. We will go in with a team, what happens is the conversation starts to go to the team above them or two levels up.

CrisMarie: We can’t do this because it’s really that executive level, they’re not aligned and so they, you know, it really impacts us and we can’t do our job.

Susan: Now, sometimes you could have a long, maybe valuable discussion about just how they’re not doing their jobs. And there might be some validity to that. However, it is avoiding what’s in the room.

CrisMarie: Because you really have – it kind of goes back to that circle of control versus circle of concern. And when my circle of control are on my team, I’m sitting in the room with, I can learn to speak up and actually influence them. The executive team, no, that’s my circle of concern but I don’t really have ability to impact that very much.

And so it’s not very helpful to kind of gossip about them versus what we are suggesting and what we suggest to teams is, “Hey, bring this back down to you and your team.” Because they can also talk about their direct reports and how we need to change all of them. And it’s like, okay, you’re going up, you’re going down. What about the people sitting right next to you?

Susan: And again, we’re bringing this up because really what we suggest, if you really want to understand where you are with conflict, part of it is being willing to come into the here and now, the immediate moment. What is happening between you and I right now? Here’s the deal, you could look at various things from spiritual practices, to therapy, to – I’m sure in the business world, they have their version of it, about what it means to be in the present moment, the value of that.

And basically what that means, you are dealing with what’s happening right now between you and I, and that is very difficult for us to get to.

CrisMarie: That is the moment of influence, and honesty, and realness. And you and I, all of us, I just want you to check this out for yourself; you can feel when that sort of conversation starts to happen, because it’s so different.

Susan: It’s so different. And the thing about it is, the other thing about when you’re in the here and now there is no way you can think that you have certainty.

CrisMarie: Can you give us, Susan, an example of a here and now conversation versus a there and then, would it be that?

Susan: Yeah, sure. I mean right here and now between you and I, we’ve set up how we were going to talk about this. And I think we’ve done things differently than we agreed to do them. And so I keep wanting to go back to my notes which would be – and say, “You said you were going to do this, and instead you’re doing this.” Which that’s going back into the past and bringing it into this moment versus…

CrisMarie: Which would add value too.

Susan: I’m uncomfortable right now because we’re not having the conversation I thought we were going to have. And I was going to bring up this, but I don’t know if it fits anymore. So yeah, but that would be more immediate.

CrisMarie: Yes. And so I’m open to your input if we want to wrap in your ideas of what we wrote down on that list. So she’s influencing me right now, versus let’s say we get done with this podcast and she gives me the feedback like, “You went off script. Well, I thought we had this outline and you didn’t follow it.” We can’t change it at that point. So that here and now is so powerful for influence.

Susan: There are times to go to, you know, into the past to evaluate something and to look at it. So it’s not like that’s not valuable. But where you’re going to get to that rich juicy potential for conflict is if you can bring it into this moment in time, what’s happening right here and now.

CrisMarie: I agree. And one of the things I noticed that this team that we just worked with, is instead of talking to Jane, like, “Jane, I really like that you brought up this topic.” They said, “I really like that Jane brought up this topic so it was more dispersed.” Like I’m telling everybody else in the room about this versus turning and saying, “Jane, thanks for bringing up this topic,” very different.

Susan: Very different. And we do a team self-assessment. So the only people that have taken this are sitting in the room. And often what happens when we bring out that team assessment…

CrisMarie: The results of what they’ve done.

Susan: …results is that there’s a big discussion about the statistical relevance of the test, which is valid, it’s on healthy dimensions, which often may not have the same statistical relevance as something else. And so we could have that discussion, “Was that a good question? Was it worded right?” But what we try to do is bring it into, “But wait a minute, there’s still this discrepancy between three of you said this and five of you said this. Can you talk about?” That’s the here and now.

CrisMarie: That’s the, yeah.

Susan: Talk about that gap.

CrisMarie: Why you rated no never and the other people rated it always.

Susan: And you may even come to a conclusion that it was a misunderstanding about the question. But that would be having the conversation in the here and now between each other about the issue, versus this is a bad question.

CrisMarie: The ability for a team to actually drop in and say, “Well, I rated it never because I have seen us try to have this conversation and we don’t.” Or, “I see us hardly ever apologize to each other.” That would be an honest conversation. But usually a team that is struggling or just even starting is not willing to drop to that level of honesty here and now realness.

Susan: And I do think, so let’s talk a little bit about how you can get there because…

CrisMarie: Because we want you thinking about your team and does your team have that type of conversation, because you can get there.

Susan: You can. And the first piece is just understanding that there’s nothing inherently wrong with you, it’s just uncomfortable. There’s tension, there’s stress, there’s discomfort. And you’re used to being able to control something. And then in conflict you don’t have that control right then, you’re actually letting it go.

CrisMarie: Because you don’t know how the person’s going to react. And that is a risk but the more a team can develop those relationships, and you think about any relationship that you care about, you are able to go there. And so the more you can actually really be willing to say, “Hey, this isn’t working for me,” or, “I am uncomfortable.” And we talk about using I statements, not you statements in that, it’s very powerful.

Susan: And there’s two things that I would say, that I would suggest. If you listen to this and recognize yourself in it, your team in it, your organization in it then there’s a couple of things. One, some coaching for yourself would probably be incredibly valuable, because your ability to kind of be in that uncertainty and feel that tension, and deal with it effectively, is critical. And I’m talking coaching, I’m not talking therapy. I mean I’m a therapist, so you could go to…

CrisMarie: She was.

Susan: I was. But I’m talking coaching, about how do you deal with this in this moment and how might it be a performance issue for you, getting in your way of getting to where you want to be.

CrisMarie: We find people who are able to do these skills, like drop in and say, “I am uncomfortable, I don’t like this. I disagree.” Are the ones that actually start to influence more and more in the organization.

Susan: Like we kind of jokingly say, “If you want to become an Olympian on your team, deal with your tension, stress, and your own nervous system.” Thus the Olympian is an expert at that.

CrisMarie: That would be me, CrisMarie.

Susan: Yeah.

CrisMarie: And we don’t want you to think that it’s going to be easy or comfortable. We are saying this is going to stretch you and grow you. But the coaching, whether you coach with Susan or you coach with me, CrisMarie, you’re going to expand your capacity, it sounds crazy, for discomfort, which is going to expand your ability to influence, and rise, and make more money basically.

Susan: And then the second thing is if you know this is an issue on your team, consider bringing someone in, we come in and work with teams, this is our specialty area, we’d love to come and work with you. You also could decide to pick up our book, The Beauty of Conflict: Harnessing your Team’s Competitive Advantage. Talk about it, do it as a book club, pull us in for that.

CrisMarie: Because we do have a company that just reached out to us and they are going to do it as a book club and we’re going to do some assessments that we have. And we’re going to come in and do a Q&A. And that’s a great way to start the conversation, because we really get almost every human being on this Earth does not like the word ‘conflict’, does not like conflict.

Susan: And you can see it everywhere else, you could see it at congress, you can see at the teams above you, below you, out in the world. But you don’t recognize – it’s probably living here too, and what could I do to make that a rich creative experience, not something I avoid?

CrisMarie: So if you want to make a difference for yourself and your own career, and your team and your organization, please reach out to us and sign up for coaching, have us come do a book club, or bring us in for an offsite. We’re not in so much as we are virtual, but it’s working really well.

Susan: And remember, there is beauty in comfort.

CrisMarie: In conflict.

Susan: In conflict.

CrisMarie: Take care.

If you want to learn more about what we discussed today, or how to deal with conflict more effectively, Susan and myself, CrisMarie are both available for individual one-on-one coaching. We also offer couples coaching, which now as we live and work 24/7 together, may be more important than ever.

Susan: We continue to do our team facilitation, both live and now virtually. Let’s get real, until you’ve had a tough conversation over Zoom, you may not be building the trust you need on your team. For the next couple of months we are offering free virtual trainings to organizations. Our goal is to support you, your team and your business, both at work and at home during this pandemic.

CrisMarie: Right now you can find short videos on my, CrisMarie’s LinkedIn and Facebook with tips, tools and inspiration. To contact us, email thrive@thriveinc.com, that’s t.h.r.i.v.e@t.h.r.i.v.e.i.n.c.com.

Susan: Okay, stay safe, stay healthy and remember, together we’re better and stronger.

CrisMarie: Take care.

CrisMarie Campbell and Susan Clarke

Coaches, Business Consultants, Speakers and Authors of The Beauty of Conflict

CrisMarie and Susan work leaders and teams, couples in business, and professional women.

They help turnaround dysfunctional teams into high performing, cohesive teams who trust each other, deal with differences directly, and have clarity and alignment on their business strategy so they create great results.

Connect with CrisMarie and Susan on LinkedIn.

Watch their TEDx Talk: Conflict – Use It, Don’t Defuse It!

Order their new book The Beauty of Conflict for Couples: Igniting Passion, Intimacy, and Connection in Your Relationship.

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