When I speak with employee relations professionals, they always say that 95% of workplace conflicts are based on a miscommunication. Once they’ve diagnosed this, the real challenge is in how a leader plans to fix it. This is usually the part of the article where I would suggest we try to be more like superheroes. Today, I’m recommending the opposite.
The trailers for Captain America: Civil War are packed with superheroes fighting superheroes. According to Joe Russo, director of the preceding Captain America movie, Civil War is:
…the story about family, and what happens if they don’t agree. We’ve been comparing it to a fight at a wedding. What happens when your cousin and your brother go at it, and whose side are you on?
Their conflict revolves around political and ethical ideology. Captain America believes superheroes should remain free to defend humanity without government interference, while Iron Man supports legislative oversight. The argument escalates into an all-out battle with other superheroes picking sides. Why did it have to get to this point? Granted, no one wants to watch a two hour movie of superheroes participating in intense mediation, but isn’t there a more constructive way to resolve their conflicts?
Thankfully, there are a number of ways we can address disagreements without having to resort to fisticuffs. One of the most effective (and least violent) is to foster a culture of frontstabbing. Unlike its deceptive ‘stabbing in the back’ adversary, frontstabbing involves saying the uncomfortable comments directly to that person. If conflicts are primarily based upon a misunderstanding, this is the quickest way to clear up that misunderstanding and avoid escalation.
In Susan Scott’s book Fierce Conversations: Achieving Success at Work and in Life One Conversation at a Time, she discusses her experiences coaching CEOs to be more candid with those on their team. As discussed by Stacey Engle, Executive Vice President of Marketing for Scott’s company,
[Scott’s research] found that a lot of people needed coaching on how to be authentic in a conversation… It’s a human characteristic to be scared to talk about the truth. But people want the truth.
Inauthentic communication leads to people being too “nice” or “polite.” Necessary conflict is dismissed or minimized to the point where everyone is saying the politically correct thing, while resentment builds. This suppressed frustration is then released in outbursts that are often unplanned and counterproductive. Frontstabbing, on the other hand, offers a way to say what you think in a respectful, clear tone. Since anger is not suppressed, actions and behaviors are more controlled with less flare-ups.
Creating an environment of frontstabbing can be a challenge. To institute this organizational change consider the following:
- Frontstabbing is not synonymous with brutal honesty. Since the goal is to help, not harm, shoot for respectful honest.
- Think before you speak. Have a plan before the conversation begins, including your intentions and the end-goal.
- Be open to feedback. If everyone is practicing frontstabbing, you will get some pushback…and you may find that you are in the wrong.
- Don’t be a psychologist. You need to describe behaviors and actions, not analyze why people do what they do.
- Remain calm. Some will test your patience, so you may need to remind yourself that the objective is to find a workable resolution.
Instead of relying on weaponry, make the effort to resolve conflicts through peaceful perseverance. Some conflicts will end in a compromise, other times someone will lose. Either way, straightforward communication should result in mutual understanding and a solution, not a battlefield of superheroes who are unable to articulate a clear argument.