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Are You Killing Your Career By Avoiding Conflict?

Season 3, Ep. 4

Are You Killing Your Career By Avoiding Conflict?


Bob is the CEO of a thriving construction company. The only trouble is he works 75-hour weeks, because he “picks up the pieces” when his key leaders drop the ball. Yet he hasn’t made it clear they need to own their work. 

Sharon is the SVP Sales at a mid-sized software company. Her salespeople are highly compensated, yet continue to miss their numbers. And their compensation hasn’t been reduced. 

What do both leaders have in common? 

They’re avoiding conflict.  


How Your Brain Handles Conflict 

Many of us have been socialized or learned as adults that conflict is “bad” and in order to succeed, we should appear optimistic and positive at all times. Yet while this avoidance of conflict leads to superficial harmony, it denies what is really going on, and undermines genuine trust. 

When conflict occurs, many leaders (like Bob and Sharon) have a tendency to participate in it versus lead through it. It’s comfortable to do this, because our brains are wired to want to belong. Fear of ostracism leads to fear of conflict… but when we avoid conflict, it has a tendency to escalate . 

The state of conflict or friction in the workplace (or life) is something I call the Critter State. [explain Critter State] We dive into Critter State when we feel threatened. Any time there’s conflict, the animalistic instincts in our limbic and survival systems kick into gear. This undermines communication and teamwork — and fuels aggression. All of this leads to even more issues.  

Here’s what to do:

1. Unpack How Your Culture Creates Conflict, And Address It. 

Chances are good you’ll find:  

  • Recurring low/incomplete communication, leading to mis-matched expectations and misunderstandings in general, so make sure communication is actionable, accurate (have the communication “receiver” echo back what they heard) and complete (ensure dependencies and contingencies are being considered) 
  • Infrequent or incomplete feedback, leading to people not knowing if they are on or off track 
  • No consequences for dropped accountability, so the pattern repeats. 

Follow the above links for brain-based tools to help in each scenario. 

2. Know Your Conflict Avoidance Strategy. 

Avoiding conflict comes in three flavors:  

  • Passivity—doing nothing and hoping the problem will go away, or waiting for the actions of others to fail,  
  • Overly compliant and trying not to rock the harmony boat of the relationship versus trusting that the relationship will be stronger when ideas and opinions are discussed honestly,  
  • Overly controlling without including time for discussion and connection.  

While each of these strategies has a time and a place where they are effective, they will damage results, morale, and sustainability if they aren’t stopped. Through coaching Bob and Sharon came to understand their conflict avoidance pattern. Next, I needed to give them some tools to move through conflict more comfortably… 

3. Ask Open-Ended Questions to Design A Shared Outcome.

This will enable you and the other person(s) to move from the Critter State and into the prefrontal cortex (woo hoo! Now you’re in your Smart State). To design the better-feeling reality that you all want you’ll use an Outcome Frame. An Outcome Frame helps you create a strong vision of the state you want to be in. Here are the basic questions:  

  • What would you like? 
  • What will having that do for you? 
  • How will you know when you have it? 
  • When, where, and with whom would you like it? 
  • What of value might you risk or lose? 
  • What are your next steps? 

Use this tool to discover how your team can move forward in conflict. Have them answer these questions in order to assess where they really want to be. The Outcome Frame is a terrific conflict prevention tool as well.   

4. To Stir Up Healthy Conflict, Use A Pinata.  

Consider yourself the “Pinata Maker.” Offer potential solutions as if you were hanging up a Pinata and expecting everyone to take a hit at it. No whacks to the idea, no candy comes out. This mindset may help your team to not get too attached to an idea or solution before others have had their say. And at the same time, it’ll allow you a way to offer ideas for discussion before they are fully formed in your own mind. Work with your coach to make this collaborative solution-forming style feel safe and productive. 

Recognize that when you are willing to have direct, non-judgmental conversations about topics like low accountability, blaming behavior and boundaries, you are able to create powerful learning opportunities for your team and for yourself. Scan your relationships and identify with whom you are holding resentments, festering worries about some of their behaviors, or withholding some other information out of worry they may not like what you have to say or because you have written them off. 

Net-Net 

How will you overcome workplace conflict by using these tools? Let’s discuss!  

SHOW NOTES

Tools to unpack cultural conflict: communication, feedback, accountability

Feedback Frame infographic

Outcome Frame infographic


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2/16/2021

Resistance is Necessary for Optimal Organizations

Season 3, Ep. 14
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2/9/2021

Why Your Team Doesn't Care

Season 3, Ep. 13
Why Your Team Doesn’t Care: The 4 Ways You’re Crushing Your CultureAre your team members highly accountable?Do they have a “Thank God It’s Monday” attitude?Do they take tons of initiative?If not, you’ve likely gotCrushed Culture.It’s a disease. And it’s going to become an epidemic if we don’t do something about it. Evidence: three companies I used to love now haveCrushed Culture: Lenscrafters, Hilton hotels, and evenat times(gasp) JetBlue.It’s spreading.According to the recent Gallup poll on employee engagement:“Seventy-one percent of American workers are ‘not engaged’ or ‘actively disengaged’ in their work, meaning they are emotionally disconnected from their workplaces and are less likely to be productive. This trend remained relatively stable throughout 2011.”What?This trend has remained relatively stable.Wow.Does this concern you?A lot?And don’t thinkCrushed Culturesymptoms are in the rank and file alone.“Our team is full of order takers.”“Why do we have so little accountability around here?”“We’re going through a lot of change. Why don’t our people embrace it?”These are but a few of the most common complaints and concerns I often hear from the C Suite. And I’ve been listening for a long time—almost 30 years. Employee disengagement, orCrushed Culture, has spread to the C Suite too.Four Steps to CureCrushed Culture:Step1: Emotional Equityis greater thanFinancial Equity.We all know what financial equity is—money—stock, comp packages, golden handcuffs. All the things we think will make people loyal to a company and keep them engaged. But this no longer works, as Gallup proves, and especially with Millennials. Nope, they, like the rest of us, want to feel like we’re part of something bigger, like we’re on a glorious mission, like our work matters, like we’ll leave the world just a little better than we found it, and we want to achieve that (in part) during our work hours.Here’s the formula:Put energy into someone by explaining why your company is doing what it is doing, what your mission,vision, andvaluesreallymean, mentor them, talk challenges out with them, pay attention to them and you’ll start to build emotional equity. That equity will now give you access to their heart, mind, Rolodex, idle thought cycles. Now they’re thinking about how to help the company innovate better, solve a specific problem, etc. as they shower and commute and whatever. That access to a person’s additional resources will enable you to influence outcomes more effectively. Now you have a shared cause, you’re on the same team, you’re safe and you belong together.It’s emotional.Step2:StopTheWhining.The C suite, management, staff, everyone needs to get off what I call the Tension Triangle. This is where people bounce from victim to rescuer to persecutor. Stephen Karpman, MD, first created this as theDreaded Drama Triangleor DDT. The DDT is comprised of three roles: Victim (the role where someone is “doing” something to them),Rescuer (who tries to remove the Victim’s suffering, often without being asked), and Persecutor (which the Victim blames for their suffering, yet the Persecutor is often feeling victimized too).David Emeraldhas extended this triangle, and I have extended it further. The net-net is Victims are complaining because they want something—so we help them shift to be an Outcome Creator. The Rescuer is just trying to end the suffering, so we help them become an Insight Creator by asking the right questions so the Victim can get what they need by themselves. The Persecutor is usually frustrated by trying to make things happen, so we help them become an Action Creator. Once everyone is trained in shifting their most prevalent role to a healthy alternative,the whining ends. Nowthat’s empowerment.Victim becomes Outcome CreatorRescuer becomes Insight CreatorPersecutor becomes Action CreatorStep3: Invest ONLY for ROI.Training your team is expensive. So only do what matters. Every person in your company needs to be trained in Problem to Outcome(to stop the Whining),LeadershipEffectiveness (so they become leaders in their own right), Influencing Outcomes and Others, Accountability,Communication, andExecution. Allthesebe neuroscience-based to get far more bang for your buck.This training willcost you about$750-1,000 per person. 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