• thriveinc

Harnessing Conflict Both Personally and Professionally with Greg and Jenifer Lambert

Updated: Nov 18, 2019

We know you will benefit from hearing real life stories of the experiences other leaders and partners have had with embracing the Beauty of Conflict.

That's why we have Jenifer and Greg on the podcast this week- they are partners in life and business and can show us all how harnessing conflict can have such a positive impact in all arenas of life.

In fact, Jenifer was so moved by the power of using conflict in a way that serves everyone, she helped us come up with the second part of our book, The Beauty of Conflict: Harnessing Your Team's Competitive Advantage. She's the one that really saw the advantage of using what we teach in her own life.

And now you can hear why. Jenifer and Greg are sharing with us how using the tools we teach helped them shift personally and how it is helping their team and those who see them living in this way.

This is a really fun episode with some tools and examples you can use in your own life. We can't wait for you to listen (or read it!) at the link below and let us know if you can relate to Jenifer and Greg's story.

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Full Transcript:

CrisMarie: We're excited to have Greg and Jenifer Lambert on today. they are the primary owners of TERRA Staffing Group. TERRA Staffing Group has been delivering a broad range of staffing solutions to clients from small privately held companies to Fortune 500 firms across diverse industries since 1983. They've established themselves as a leader in the staffing industry, and have even earned the coveted Best of Staffing Award eight years in a row.

Greg serves as a company CEO, and Jenifer is the company's chief revenue officer. Jenifer's mother founded the company in 1983, and the couple has since purchased the majority shares.

Susan: So, Jenifer joined the business right out of college. The year after joining the business, she recruited Greg. Now, Jenifer refers to that is the best hire she ever made.

CrisMarie: She was dating him at the time.

Susan: Yes, and she's still considered her best.

CrisMarie: Yeah?

Susan: This is a while ago. The company have a 150 full-time staff with revenues approaching 100 million. Greg and Jen not only found a way to work together, they claimed that they love it and say that if they weren't running this business, they'd find another business to run together. Now, that's something.

CrisMarie: So, we're excited to have you both here. Thank you for joining us.

Jenifer L.: Thank you for having us.

Greg Lambert: Thank you for having us.

CrisMarie: You bet.

Susan: Just so people know as you're listening to this, they're in different locations. So, we are doing our first ever with three different unique locations going. So if at different times we overlap, well, we want to keep it conversational, so we'll see how that goes.

CrisMarie: Yeah. So, tell us about how you two came into working together as business leaders as well as spouses as you started the company. Jen, you can start because you hired Greg. Then I imagine as things developed, you wound up getting married and then working together. Talk about how that transition went.

Jenifer L.: Yeah, I do joke that he's the best placement that I ever made, and I still stand by that. At the time that I recruited him into the business, we were both really young and just starting out our careers. I don't think either of us thought that we would be here, fast forward, 25 nearly 30 years, actually. It was a family business, it was meant to help out my family as well as give us both some work experience. I think we both imagined that, at some point, we'd be on to "bigger and better things."

But, we fell in love with the business and we really enjoy working together. So not long after he joined the business, we did get married, and our roles have really evolved over time. One time, we were peers on the organizational chart. Currently, he is officially my boss. He is the CEO.

At the time that we decided it was time for that transition in the CEO role, we talked about who wants to be the CEO. I was very much in favor of him taking on that role, because I think his skills are better aligned for that role. So today, we're on an executive team of five people. There's three others in addition to us, and so we're peers. I also report to him as our CEO, and it works really well on 99 out of 100 days.

CrisMarie: Greg, do you have anything you want to add?

Greg Lambert: Well, you did notice that she did put bossy in quotes as according to her distinction there. No, it does work great. I think working together, in my opinion, enhances our relationship. I think we learned how to communicate better both at work and at home because skills that we would learn at work could transfer to how we would communicate at home. We really learned how to be more respectful of each other in both venues, and I think that's really added and improved to the relationship overall.

CrisMarie: Yeah, it is pretty tricky, because we're spouses in business, too. You can have a real casual err with your spouse at home. Then when you're in front of an audience or a team, it's a little bit different. It can be a little bit more... Yeah, I appreciate that you've learned one of the challenges of how to actually show up and still have differences, but do it in a respectful way at work.

Jenifer L.: Yeah.

CrisMarie: Well, what challenges came up around being both partners in life and business over the course of these 25 or 30 years?

Jenifer L.: I'll go first.

CrisMarie: Thank you, Jen. I forgot to ask.

Jenifer L.: That's okay. We're both holding back. I'll go first. I think that the biggest challenge is that because there is a personal relationship, sometimes the conflict feels more personal, and you don't have the luxury of compartmentalizing. So, you get into a fight with your boss at work or you have a disagreement with your coworker, you can go home and vent to your spouse about it, maybe, or can walk away from it, "I'm just going to go home. I'll deal with this tomorrow."

Well, I go home and he's there. We don't have the luxury, but I would say to Greg's point about how it's made us better in both spheres by working together. It's because you don't have that luxury, you're forced to deal with it and that's ultimately, I think more healthy, but there are times when that bleed over is more difficult.

CrisMarie: Oh, I can imagine. Greg, do you want to give your point of view?

Greg Lambert: Yeah, I think the main challenge that we'll occasionally see is the language that you will sometimes use. Even though you believe it's professional in nature at work, it sounds much more personal when you're as a spouse. So, you may say something quite innocent and the other party may say, "Hey, you don't talk to your other employees that way. Why do you talk to me that way?" But you don't necessarily see the difference in tonality always while you're at work.

So, I think that's something you have to be, for me, I have to be very cognizant of is making sure that I'm not trying to portray any type of tonality to it. I think one thing that makes it a challenge for me is I tend to be more passive and more reserved, making sure that I don't communicate more powerfully than I'm intending with my spouse, because then it causes a new conflict when I'm not intending it to happen.

CrisMarie: So, it sounds like you would kind of hold back in dealing with Jen because it...

Greg Lambert: I don't hold back, but it will be more patient in terms of my communication. So, maybe I may not say it in front of a full group and I may say it more privately where the communication can be a little bit more casual and professional simultaneously.

CrisMarie: Got it.

Susan: Okay. Jen, do you agree with that? Do you think he holds back? I can't help but ask.

Jenifer L.: I do try to tell some things, Susan. Let's demonstrate how we work through conflict right now. Well, yes and no. Yeah, that is something. Actually, that's feedback he's gotten from our executive team. I think he's gotten a lot better about it, that they've sometimes felt like he was holding back, and nobody wants him to hold back.

We understand why, and I think we understand why he does that sometimes. He's gotten a lot better about that, but I do agree with him that there are things that we'll say to each other that if we just said it between the two of us, it would be fine. But when you say that same thing in front of other people, it feels different.

So like yesterday, just a tiny example, in a meeting, he stopped me because I was going on. If it had been just the two of us and he'd said that to me, it would never have bothered me, but because there was another person present, it felt different. So, it's not even inappropriate how he said it. It's just that just being in a different context, it feels dense. I think that's what he's referring to, those types of interactions.

CrisMarie: Yeah. I just had a question. Does it feel different between you two or does the other person interpreted as different, or even when it lands for you, Jenifer, if feels like, "Oh, I didn't like that he said that."

Jenifer L.: The person who's not in this couple?

CrisMarie: Yes. The third person.

Jenifer L.: I can't speak to how it feels for them. One of the things we're really mindful of, we've heard horror stories of family business or couples in business where they're this family dynamic that's really uncomfortable for others to have to witness. We are really cognizant of that. We don't call each other pet names in front of other people, where we keep our communication professional. I mean, I think people are always aware that there is that relationship, but it's not...

We've actually had some employees who didn't realize right away that we were a couple or they thought, "Oh, family business. Are they siblings?" I mean, we really try not to make that dynamic too front and center.

CrisMarie: Got it.

Susan: Sure.

Jenifer L.: Yeah.

CrisMarie: Now, when we came and worked with you a few years back, and I'd be curious, what prompted, and Jen you can answer first and then Greg, you can-

Susan: I think you should switch it over this time. Give Greg the lead.

CrisMarie: Okay, Greg. You can answer first. What prompted you to bring us in, and yeah, to work with your leadership team? Just talk about that.

Greg Lambert: Yeah. Well for a year an executive meaning, I wanted to bring in a facilitator because of the topics that we were wrestling with I felt what was best for facilitator. The other facilitators that I had interviewed, I just didn't feel would be the right fit for our organization. Jenifer knew of you, and she had interacted with another one of the people that you had worked with in the past, and recommended you.

CrisMarie: Excellent. Jen, do you want to add anything to that?

Jenifer L.: Yeah. Greg normally facilitates our retreats as the CEO, and we wanted him to be able to participate more fully as just a participant and not having to wear both hats of a facilitator and a participant. So really, he was looking for a recommendation for a facilitator. The time we didn't realize that all the content you would offer that you would also bring to the meeting that ended up being really valuable.

So I think early on, our initial impression was just that we were hiring a facilitator to facilitate our agenda, but you brought some content and some tools to it that were really valuable.

CrisMarie: Excellent. I would just even be curious as to what actually stood out that you've continued to use or even your perspective on conflict the way we talk about it. What shifted for you in working with us? Jen, why don't you start, and then we'll go to Greg?

Jenifer L.: Sure, yeah. I would tell you that at the time that you were introduced, some of the conflict tools to us, I thought, "Well this'll be interesting, and this'll be always valuable to brush up on any sort of skill or knowledge base," but I would have told you that we didn't have conflict. Minor disagreements from time to time, but conflict didn't define our teams.

So, it wasn't at the level of dysfunction, there was a lot of respect. We had a high value for fair play and mutual respect. The whole concept of conflict seemed like... I approached, it with sort of an arms length curiosity like, "Well this will be valuable. You never know when you might need something like this." But I realized through the process of working with you that part of the reason we didn't have "conflict," I say in quotes, is because we were not honestly addressing differences.

So, we would side step each other. It was the things that weren't being talked about or it was the conversations where we would differ too quickly to somebody else just for the sake of being agreeable. Even if we didn't fully agree, and I realized that while we weren't in the classic ugly conflict, there was no stonewalling or resentment and that kind of thing happening. We were doing a disservice to the business by not really being willing to hang in there when there was authentic moments of disagreement, and really embracing it.

I love the title of your book, The Beauty of Conflict, because I had never seen conflict as beauty. It was something to just get through, and/or potentially, sidestep. Now, I think our team has a better appreciation for hanging in there and saying, "I see it differently," and being willing to risk conflict in order to get a better result and be true to what is the best interest of the business.

Susan: Hey, Jen, I just wanted to say that I'm glad that you love the title. I believe it was actually you that helped us come up with the second part of the title, which was, Harnessing Your Team's Competitive Advantage, like using the word. I don't know if you remember that, but-

Jenifer L.: Thank you for reminding me. I do now, and it's authentic. I mean, I think the reason I don't remember it without some prompting is that it didn't feel like a difficult project to me to help you with that. It felt very authentic. I do believe that harnessing our ability to work through conflict and not run from it, but actually engage it is a competitive advantage for us.

Because all you know for certain, when two people don't see something the same way, is that potentially one of them, maybe both of them, are wrong. It would be to the benefit of the business to figure out which one of them. We want to see what the truth is, right? So instead of just deferring to quickly for the sake of peace, it's a cheap and easy peace that actually, I think you're short changing the relationship, and you're shortchanging the interest of the business.

CrisMarie: Hmm. I really appreciate, this is CrisMarie, the idea that you didn't think you had conflict, and because conflict can look like just silence. It can look like what you said sidestepping. Until you actually kind of mine for conflict, "No, we really want your ideas," that's when it's not even my idea is right or yours is right. It's actually when we start talking, something new emerges that neither of us were thinking about before, which is so powerful. Yeah. Greg, we've been chatting. Do you want to share anything here?

Greg Lambert: Well, I think from bringing into the group, I think as business leaders, Jenifer and I were much more comfortable engaging as you called, mining for conflict. Like, we were much more comfortable with it than I found that the other members of our executive team. I think especially for Jenifer and I, we were much more comfortable sparring and dealing with issues in the public than they were. So, I felt it really helped them much more than I realized, where I...

Maybe for myself, I didn't feel like I was uncomfortable with conflict. I realized how uncomfortable they were with conflict, and it really gave them more tools to communicate back to us. Even in the interacting with them, I could gave me more tools to be able to solicit more communication from them and make sure that they felt comfortable saying whatever they needed to say. So, that's what I found was one of the biggest benefits.

Jenifer L.: That's a great point, Greg. I hadn't thought about that pre our work with you, CrisMarie and Susan, that the rest of our team would sit back and watch Greg and I duke it out. I say duke it out very lightly. I mean, we didn't really duke it out, but I think they were very like, "Okay. Well, these two will disagree and we'll sit back and see what they come up with."

Finally, I remember one meeting I said, "Any one of you is free to speak up at any point here. Surely you have an opinion on this," because we had two very different opinions on this particular topic. They have now found their own voice or found how to use their voice in that. I mean just yesterday, in a meeting between three of us on the executive team, we had a disagreement about how to proceed with something. It was so different, that conversation, than what it would have been pre our working together.

We went back and forth. By the end, we came to a decision that we were all bought into, but we hung in there, advocating for why we thought one course of direction was the right one until we all felt comfortable with the outcome. Not just comfortable, but I think we believed that we'd come to the right decision.

CrisMarie: I love that example, Jen. This is CrisMarie, because I think so often, teams do let like, "Let's let the people in power," you two, "let them duke it out or figure it out, and then we'll just do the direction they tell us." But they may not have that level of buy-in. They may be thinking in their heads, "That's really not going to work." "Okay, I'll do it anyway."

I think so often, organizations that we work with think, "Oh, it's going to take too much time to have this conversation. We should just make a decision and go on," but the level of buy-in and the creativity that comes up when you have that discussion is so powerful in the long run for the business results and the bottom line business results, really.

Susan: So true.

Jenifer L.: Right.

Susan: I was also thinking, and this is Susan, I was thinking about how even when you guys were talking earlier about how you have, as a couple, learn to show up and work, and do continually keep supporting people on your team or in your business to not think of you as a couple. I can imagine even with that group when we first worked with you, even though you guys were doing that really well, I think for them sometime, the way that you two had both a personal and business thing could have also