Using conflict as a tool for discovery

“Software is easy but people are hard” – a Solutions Analyst at a scaling startup

Conflict is inherent to life and so it is inherent to business, too. Yet we tend to accept that the cost of conflict – tension, termination, high turnover – is simply inevitable. Or we come up with ways to avoid conflict, hoping that if we optimize for positivity or transparency, we can sidestep it completely, mainly because we have no idea how to deal with conflict when we’re faced with it ourselves. 

But it doesn’t have to be that way. Not if we have simple, practical tools and trained facilitators who help their colleagues navigate conflict within the workplace.

Enter Courageous Candor – a way to focus on your business goals by addressing internal obstacles to external success. One of the fundamental pillars of Courageous Candor is to directly address issues which are typically ignored until they demand a reaction. 

In the beginning, these tools will be easier to use in a one-on-one setting, but the ultimate objective is to be able to use them in a group setting, which is when they can be really powerful. 

Setting the stage

Let’s start with the most mundane, simple example: a planning meeting. How many meetings have you attended where there’s some amount of tension that never gets addressed? We’ll work with this example to demonstrate how you have an opportunity to be proactive to reduce the pressure in the organization. 

Imagine a planning meeting with six people, and one of the key people leaves early. Or maybe it’s a video conference call and they never turn their video on. Or they never say anything, and you’re wondering, what’s going on with this person? 

Consider the meetings you’ve attended over the years:

  • Have you experienced someone leaving early or not participating and wondered what’s going on? 
  • Subsequently, have you made up a story about what’s happening? If so, what are some of the stories you’ve made up? 

What if you had a tool to address that in a way that would lead to more productive outcomes? We're going to teach you how to create a Clean Communication™ organization where that's the norm. That's the culture and that's the expectation among all employees. 

Mindset: Proactive versus reactive 

While it often goes unmentioned, the reactive cost of conflict is high – and can easily reach six to seven- figure settlements. When an employee sues, you have to settle; you can’t let it go to trial because it’s such bad press. The challenge is that it’s unclear how to prioritize being proactive or generally unclear what that would look like. On the other hand, the problem with reactivity is that it’s really hard to save the relationship once you’ve arrived at this point.

Let’s look at the costs of being reactive: 

  • At least one person isn’t performing in their role. Opportunity cost: the business isn’t getting the value of the job that needs to be done -- this can get worse as pressure builds
  • Trust is broken with at least one person in the team, which can spread to the entire department. It's nearly impossible to recover from
  • Usually the only workable solution is to terminate someone or even multiple people, which often leads to lawsuits
  • Then you have to recruit, hire, onboard a new person for the job, and that takes money and time – at least a quarter if not a year, depending on the seniority of the role

A proactive Courageous Candor protocol can lessen or eliminate these costs, which lessens the cost on the culture. As we develop and institute Courageous Candor, we’ll bring in metrics to demonstrate how it helps everyone be more effective, showing that proactive investment pays dividends. At this point, no one has been able to calculate the ROI even though everyone can feel the pain of being reactive. 

Avoid communication debt  

Just as any organization has to keep an eye out for technical debt, we also need to keep from collecting communication debt – a history of negative interactions that lead to employees forming cliques and coalitions. When that goes unaddressed, the elephant in the room only gets bigger. We understand the hesitation; you have to know how to address it, and that takes skill, training and practice. Which is what you get with Courageous Candor. 

I think asking permission shows a lot of respect, regardless of your work status. So this is something new, and it feels really nice, to be asked if you have time to check something out.
This workshop gave me new learnings in terms of communication and it’s also like learning a new process that I could use to resolve conflicts, in approaching people that surrounds me.
I’m used to managers being direct on asking questions about my work, or basically just checking something out. So I think asking permission shows a lot of respect, regardless of your work status.
This workshop made it clearer and more specific on how we can apply met and unmet needs in communicating with people not just in family culture, but with other people in relationships.
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