Tag Archives: Conflict

The One Way to Constructively Defuse an Argument

Constructive conflict is a healthy part of any organization. Deprived of it, we end up with a lack of innovation, status quos are not challenged, necessary questions are avoided, and there is a lethal amount of consensus. The key is how we address this conflict.

One way to face conflict is fast and furious. Like the multi-sequel movie franchise, we can follow Dom Toretto’s philosophy:

I live my life a quarter-mile at a time. Nothing else matters; not the mortgage; not the store; not my team and their bullshit. For those ten seconds or less, I’m free.

When we lead through a “quarter-mile at a time” mindset, we are likely to engage in such practical strategies as seeking compromise, utilizing empathy, avoiding blame, apologizing, and forgiving past actions. However, while these techniques can be effective, they do not work when we are in the midst of a heated argument where we feel emotionally invested. So how can we improve our ability to resolve our interpersonal conflicts?

According to a study in the Journal of Experimental Psychology, you are more likely to resolve conflict through superior reasoning strategies when you consider the situation in the long run. By distancing yourself from your current feelings, you are better equipped to unravel negative events and find resolution. Otherwise, according to another study, you are prone to ruminating, recounting, and re-experiencing the negative event indefinitely.

Still not convinced you are better off with a marathon (versus sprint) mentality? A study in Psychological Review found that imagining the future is a natural outlet to thinking more abstractly about an interpersonal conflict. Once we are able to transcend the present moment and put the negative events in context, we are less focused on recounting it and more focused on thinking about the bigger picture. And with enhanced adaptive reasoning strategies, the research reported that participants had a greater influx of positive emotions and insight.

To resolve conflicts, we need to think beyond a “quarter-mile at a time.” How will it pan out tomorrow, next week, and next year? It may not be as harrowing as a fast and furious solution, but the measure of successful leadership is not reliant on how quickly you reach the finish line.

Suicide Squad’s Three Steps to Turning Enemies Into Allies

Suicide Squad bannerHave you ever experienced a workplace rivalry? Moving beyond healthy competition, I’m referring to opposition that is counterproductive to both you and your organization’s success. It can be as obvious as jockeying against an adversary for a promotion, or as subtle as a colleague undermining your authority, abilities, or accomplishments. In some extreme cases, it can feel like we are being forced to work on a team with psychopathic criminals. No wait, that’s the plot for the new movie Suicide Squad.

In DC Comic’s movie Suicide Squad, a secret government agency recruits imprisoned supervillains to perform dangerous missions in exchange for clemency. Imagine the opposite of the Avengers or the Justice League, where instead of working together for a common good, each member of the team is self-serving, manipulative, and basically evil.

Your worst-case experience (hopefully) is not as bad as the Suicide Squad, but there may be similarities— infighting, a lack of mutual trust, bickering, backstabbing. When faced with these situations, you have two options, run away or deal with it. The first is self-explanatory and, being the leader you are, is not a likely choice. To deal with it, we need to learn how to turn our enemies into collaborators.

In Brian Uzzi and Shannon Dunlap’s Harvard Business Review article, they introduce a method that, if executed correctly, turns adversaries into allies. Unlike previous techniques that rely on reasoning and logic, Uzzi and Dunlap focus on the emotional aspects of forming trusting relationships. Their process called the 3Rs is as follows:

Step 1: Redirection

To begin your rivalry-conversion program, you need to re-establish the relationship. This involves channeling your adversary’s negative emotions away from you. In a comfortable setting, demonstrate that you understand their value. A sincere compliment, public recognition, and flattery can go a long way to redirecting the relationship towards more positive rapport.

Then, if possible, clear the air. Take responsibility for your actions and admit fault. Don’t push them to concede their part in stoking the rivalry, nor should you seek an apology. This is about you displaying a willingness to improve the relationship. Once redirection has taken place, which may take more than one instance depending on the relationship’s toxicity, you’ve set the groundwork for the next step.

Step 2: Reciprocity

After exhibiting energy to repair the broken relationship, it is time to loosen their negative feelings by giving up something of value. The idea it to consider how you can fulfill one of their more immediate needs or reduce a pain point. Carrying out this assignment will further establish trust and demonstrate the benefits of your partnership.

Once you’ve satisfied your promise(s), ask for something in return. Choose a task that requires little effort for them to reciprocate. If you get greedy, they will question your motives, which will only intensify the rivalry. Also, don’t give and then instantaneously ask for something in return. Let the good feelings simmer before trying to collect.

Step 3: Rationality

The final step establishes your expectations of the new relationship. You can get lost in redirection and reciprocity, but that won’t necessarily patch up a conflict. By expressing your expectations, you are mitigating your challenger’s ability to second-guess your intentions. This pushes your adversary to consider a reasoned perspective, comprehend the benefits, and recognize that they are being offered a valuable opportunity.

Rationality is like offering medicine after a spoonful of sugar: It ensures that you’re getting the benefit of the shifted negative emotions, and any growing positive ones, which would otherwise diffuse over time. And it avoids the ambiguity that clouds expectations and feedback when flattery and favors come one day, and demands the next.—Brian Uzzi & Shannon Dunlap

Workplace enemies are harmful to all involved. It distracts us from reaching our goals, absorbs our energy, and is a certain culture killer. As leaders, we cannot ignore or attempt to contain these caustic relationships. We must first model positive behavior by mending our rivalries and then assist our team to do the same. The other option is to form a team of self-interested supervillains, but with their proclivity towards destruction, that’s probably not a long-term solution.

Kelly Ripa on Open Communication

kelly ripaHow do you inform your team of organizational changes? Do you give some advanced notice before it is going to take place? Maybe provide a few hints so it is not such a surprise? Or do you drop the preverbal bomb with little to no warning? If you lean towards the third option, consider this cautionary tale from ABC.

There has been some drama on daytime television and it didn’t come from the soaps. On Live! co-host Michael Strahan announced he was leaving to join Good Morning America. The problem is that Kelly Ripa, his co-host, was informed of this revelation mere minutes before Strahan was going to proclaim his good news on air. She was not pleased and did not appear on the show for a few days.

I think what people need to understand about the entire situation is that I didn’t just not show up. I said, in the room, ‘I am going to take the day off.’ I needed to actually sit and gather information. I needed to make sure I said the appropriate things on TV and didn’t just come out and say whatever.—Kelly Ripa

This was not the first time Ripa has been blindsided by ABC executives. A similar thing happened when Regis Philbin announced his retirement in 2011. The only difference is that when Philbin left, Ripa was in the more junior position to Philbin. Today, she is the lead and was intentionally left out of the loop.

As leaders, we often wrestle with what, how much, and when information should be shared. I’ve often struggled after terminating an employee where I wish I could explain more to the team but, out of the respect for the individual who left, I convey a more general message. It would be so much easier to display the personnel file illustrating the number of conversations, warnings, and developmental opportunities that took place before the difficult decision was made to let someone go.

In Strahan’s case, I understand why the negotiations were kept under wraps. What if Ripa became jealous of Strahan’s move? What if it leaked to the press? What if there were rumors that Strahan was unhappy at Live!? Could this hurt his reputation or affect viewership? And what if negotiations fell apart and he stayed at Live!? I also see Ripa’s side. She’s been with the show and the network for over 15 years, and in the lead chair for the last five years. Shouldn’t this garner some degree of respect?

To their credit, Ripa’s executive bosses, the president of the Disney-ABC Television Group and his leadership team, immediately owned their misstep and personally apologized to both Ripa and Strahan. It was the right reaction, but has the damage been done? How long will it take for Ripa to trust management again?

I’m not dealing with monsters. I don’t think of anybody as a monster or out to get me…When you’re dealing with big business, it’s easy to forget that you’re dealing with people and that people have feelings. It’s easy to just look at it like a business unit.—Kelly Ripa

As a result of Live! and the many similar situations we face, I’d like to advocate for more open communication. Some may try to take advantage of this display of vulnerability, but as Brene Brown said in her TedTalk, The Power of Vulnerability, vulnerability is not synonymous with being weak or submissive. To the contrary, it denotes the courage to be yourself. This means embracing doubt, risk, and emotional exposure so as to allow for authentic relationships.

Open communication establishes the trust leaders need to attain greater engagement, loyalty, and productivity. Leaders are seen as being more dependable and the team feels more motivated. Conflicts may occur based on this increase in information, but it is easier to resolve a conflict where there is a foundation of trust versus reactively trying to clean up a mess stemming from distrust.

Before you institute your next organizational transformation, consider the feelings of the people on your team. This will not change your plan, but it may change the way you communicate it to those involved. Familiarize them with your strategy, address their concerns, and give them more than 15 minutes to acclimate before announcing it in national television.

When is Consensus a Bad Thing? The Three Stooges on Dissension

3 stooges logoIn a society where people have the right to voice their opinions, a leader’s role is often to find consensus. On the occasion when everyone agrees, it’s tempting to sigh in relief and start happy hour a little early. If this is the case, fight the temptation; your lack of conflict is a drawback.

Successful organizations need dissent. That’s why I want a little Three Stooges on my team. Who better demonstrates the bickering, questioning, and debating that a healthy team requires? If you look beyond the physical attacks, Larry, Moe, and Curly/Shemp hold each other accountable. They avoid groupthink, the faulty decision making created by group pressures, and analyze all sides of a problem before settling on a solution. Their plans don’t typically work out, but imagine how prosperous they’d be with 20 more IQ points.

To encourage the dissension necessary for a high performing team, a new paper to be published in The Proceedings of The Royal Society A investigated the idea of paradox of unanimity. When groups of people unanimously agree, it’s assumed that they cannot all be wrong; after all, what are the odds that the masses will find total accord? The paradox of unanimity states that this confidence in unity is ill-founded.

Overwhelming agreement without a dissenting opinion actually weakens credibility and points to a systemic error in the system. The researchers demonstrated this paradox in a police line-up where witnesses were tasked with identifying a suspect. The study found that as the number of unanimously agreeing witnesses increased, the chance of them being correct decreased until it was no better than a random guess.

As with most ‘paradoxes,’ it is not that our intuition is necessarily bad, but that our intuition has been badly informed. In these cases, we are surprised because we simply aren’t generally aware that identification rates by witnesses are in fact so poor.— Derek Abbott, probability expert from the University of Adelaide

3 stoogesIn some cases, large, unanimous agreement is expected, but only when there is little room for bias. For instance, when witnesses must identify an apple in a line-up of bananas, it is nearly impossible to be incorrect. However, a criminal line-up is more complicated than identifying pieces of fruit. Misidentification rates are as high as 48% especially when witnesses only briefly view the perpetrator.

The paradox of unanimity is common in the workplace, as well, and we may be unintentionally propagating it. In today’s work environment, there’s a popular notion that decisions should be unanimous. I’ve sat through many meetings where a bold idea is whittled away to gain consensus. Since the company message states that dissenting voices are welcome, the meeting tackles each aspect of the plan point by point. When someone disagrees, the team has to convince the dissenters otherwise or scrap that section of the plan. The end product is often inferior to what we start with and lacks the intended impact, BUT everyone is in agreement.

If you find yourself on the endless search for agreement, stop. The leadership role is to make the tough decisions. Survey those on your team and then create an educated resolution. Not everyone will agree, and nor should they—if everyone agrees with every decision you make, your decisions are too broad, are inconsequential, or you’re pandering.

A culture of consent is a culture of either complacency, fear of change, or a lack of engagement, so instill some Stooge into your team. Swing your proverbial frying pan to encourage discourse. Poke others in their metaphoric eyes to extract feedback from the meek. Throw your oratorical cream pies to find areas of debate. And allegorically slap the team into expressing their sincere opinions without fear of retribution or judgment.

Is Political Correctness Killing Your Culture? Jerry Seinfeld on the PC Police

jerry seinfeldDo you find yourself constricted by the increasing emphasis on political correctness? Whether intentional or not, we are on a constant state of alert that anything we say can be construed as offensive. Being a Human Resources guy (or is “person” more appropriate?), my role has often been seen as enforcing these political correct principles, yet at what point are the societal controls too controlling?

In two recent interviews, Jerry Seinfeld has voiced his frustration with the ever-intensifying pressures to be politically correct. He began on ESPN’s The Herd with Colin Cowherd.

I don’t play colleges, but I hear a lot of people tell me, ‘Don’t go near colleges. They’re so PC’… They just want to use these words: ‘That’s racist;’ ‘That’s sexist;’ ‘That’s prejudice.’ They don’t know what the hell they’re talking about.

Jerry then elaborated on Late Night with Seth Meyers.

They keep moving the lines in for no reason. I do this joke about the way people need to justify their cell phone: ‘I need to have it with me because people are so important.’ I said, ‘Well, they don’t seem very important, the way you scroll through them like a gay French king,’ [Jerry makes an exaggerated hand motion]. I did this line recently in front of an audience and they thought, ‘What do you mean, gay?… And I thought, ‘Are you kidding me?’ I can imagine a time – and this is a serious thing – I could imagine a time now where people would say that’s offensive to suggest that a gay person moves their hands in a flourishing motion, and you now need to apologize. There’s a creepy PC thing out there that really bothers me.

Jerry believes that “comedy is where you can kind of feel, like, an opinion.” This is equally true in the workplace. Not to say that sensitivity and mutual respect should be ignored, but at what point are we too politically correct?

There are benefits to political correctness in the workplace, besides the absence of racial, sexist, homophobic, etc. comments. According to a Cornell University study, people instructed to be politically correct generated a greater quantity of novel ideas than those instructed merely to be polite, or given no instructions at all. This runs counter to the idea that “true creativity requires a kind of anarchy in which people are permitted to speak their minds, whatever the consequence.”

The study goes on to say that political correctness provided a clear guidance for how members ought to relate to each other. This may be true. It may also be true that increased creativity can be less reliant on political correctness, simply leaning more on well-defined parameters of basic etiquette.

A study from the Harvard Business Review discussed the double-edge sword of political correctness, weighing workplace inclusivity and equity with the barriers to developing constructive, open relationships with co-workers. They found that when members cannot speak candidly, there’s a greater tendency to tiptoe around issues. One researcher stated, “These dynamics breed misunderstanding, conflict, and mistrust, corroding both managerial and team effectiveness.” Fortunately, this study also provides four suggestions leaders can employ to maintain a healthy PC balance.

Create safety. Your team needs to feel that expressing vulnerability will not be judged or punished. We do this by expressing the expectation that people act with good intentions and, in doing so, will not be disciplined – there is zero tolerance for deliberately offensive behavior. Additional expectations include encouraging others to be candid, not damaging anyone’s reputation when a mistake is made, and acknowledging our own foibles.

Persistently and publicly question yourself. While exposing vulnerability may feel uncomfortable, leaders who model the practice of self-probing demonstrate a humility that builds respect and loyalty from those on your team. It builds awareness to our personal biases, exhibits resilience, and makes us less likely to respond defensively to challenges.

Seek out others’ experience. Social identity has a strong influence on the way people experience workplace culture. So when we are able to develop a deeper understanding of those on our team, we are more prepared to 1) anticipate how the team will perceive and react to particular situations and 2) take immediate action.

Foster people’s investment in relationships. A workplace culture with an emphasis on learning about diversity-related issues promotes more productive and rewarding relationships. As a result, employees’ self-image is less at risk. They will feel a great sense of trust in their work group and are more likely to devote efforts into deeper, more authentic relationships.

The sentiments behind political correctness are admirable. We need to be sensitive and empathetic to other people. This is part of being a member of a group or the general populace. At the same time, acting with civility should not become a censure for divisiveness, self-doubt, polarization, or overly self-limiting behavior.

Be a leader who fosters openness while also breeding a courteous workplace culture. Don’t allow those on your team to be casual offenders of decency but don’t accept the condemnation of the hypersensitive PC police either. And when in doubt, remember the acronym WJSPH (Would Jerry Seinfeld Perform Here).