In this episode Josh talks with Liane Davey, author of numerous books including “The Good Fight”. They talk about the role of conflict in the workplace.
Liane Davey is a keynote speaker and the New York Times best-selling author of You First, Inspire Your Team to Grow Up, Get Along, and Get Stuff Done. She just released her new book, The Good Fight.
As an advisor to leaders and teams, she’s worked with many leading brands, including Amazon, SONY, RBC, Bayer, TD Bank, Aviva, and Walmart. Liane is a regular contributor to the Harvard Business Review and has been featured across major media channels, including CNN, NPR, USA Today, Quartz, The Globe and Mail, and Forbes. Liane has a PhD in Organizational Psychology.
In today’s episode you will learn:
- The cost to a business of avoiding conflict
- How do we manage different personality types in the same team
- The benefits of working through conflict
- How to have a conflict that improves engagement and reduces drama
- How to create a sustainable culture of conflict
Narrator: Welcome to The Sustainable Business Radio Show podcast where you’ll learn not only how to create a sustainable business but you’ll also learn the secrets of creating extraordinary value within your business and your life. In The Sustainable Business, we focus on what it’s going to take for you to take your successful business and make it economically and personally successful. Your host, Josh Patrick, is going to help us through finding great thought leaders as well as providing insights he’s learned through his 40 years of owning, running, planning and thinking about what it takes to make a successful business sustainable.
Josh: Hey, this is Josh Patrick. You’re at The Sustainable Business.
Today, my guest is Liane Davey. I hope I said her name properly. I do this wrong all the time. She’s a keynote speaker and a New York Times bestselling author. She just came out her third book which is called The Good Fight. Today, we are going to talk about conflict in your business, why it might not be such a bad thing. Since we only have, I don’t know, 23 minutes or so, let’s bring Liane on.
Hey, Liane. How are you today?
Liane: Hi, Josh. I’m great. Thanks.
Josh: First of all, did I get your name right?
Liane: You sure did. Perfect.
Josh: Okay, great. Well, I am known for massacring names. Hopefully, this time, I won’t do it.
Liane: Mine is pretty easy to say. It’s just hard to spell, so that’s my challenge.
Josh: That’s how it comes.
Let’s talk a little bit about conflict and what you see as conflict in a company because I think this is a really big deal is that people, in companies, do their best to avoid conflict. I’m not sure that’s the smartest way to go.
Liane: Let me give you examples at sort of three different levels. Let’s start at the sort of organizational level. There’s a conflict that I know all the viewers and listeners are going to recognize which is the conflict that it takes to set priorities. Deciding what’s more important than other things, so that’s a big one. Another conflict at the organizational level would be identifying a risk or a problem and a plan. That’s a really important conflict. Those are a couple of examples at that sort of top organizational level.
There’s also conflict at the team level. That’s going to be about, “How do we distribute the work load? How do we make sure that people have the skills they need? Or, how do we deal with how we’re treating one another?” Everything around trust, so that’s at that level.
And then, there’s very personal stuff that comes up in the workplace. “Do I feel like I’m being valued? Am I being recognized? Am I getting the kind of development and opportunities I deserve?”, so conflict if things are working well. There’s conflict all over organizations but, as I’m sure we’ll talk more about, the problem is most of us are trying to avoid those conflicts and getting into trouble by not admitting that these are just normal parts of a healthy organization.
Josh: When we’re talking about conflict, for me, the obvious conflict comes in is when I start putting different personality types in the same room. Frankly, for any successful company I’ve ever been involved with, we have to have all these personality types which, just by the fact of where you live in the world, is going to cause conflict with your coworkers.
Liane: Yep, absolutely, because we tend to think of people who see the world differently than us as dumb, or annoying, or that they’re kind of intentionally being jerks. That’s not the case at all. Yeah, there’s absolutely a natural conflict that’s going to come from working with different types of people.
I’m going to go to something even more basic. When you pool together a team of people at work, they have different roles. They could have the exact same personality but what the sales guy is trying to do in making products that are really differentiated for each customer, and new, and sexy is absolutely in conflict with what the operations person is trying to do in creating consistency and efficiency. So, we’ve got personalities. But, even before personalities, we’ve got roles that are naturally in conflict with one another and should be in conflict with one another if we’re going to do the best job we can.
Josh: That makes perfectly good sense to me. How do we manage this stuff?
Liane: The first thing we do is we actually talk a lot about the importance of it and the role of it and we change all those things we learned when we were kids that told us that conflict isn’t polite. I talk about the little people who sit on our shoulder, like grandma, who told you, ”If you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all.” She’s sitting on your shoulder. Or the teacher who told you to mind your own business and “if the conflict doesn’t involve you, don’t say anything.”
The first thing we have to do is to actually talk about how conflict is important at work. When I talked about the sales and operations example, I take every team I work with through an exercise we call The TARP which is about the thing about everybody pulling on a different rope, so we spread out this tarp. We talk about, “Okay. What’s the unique perspective of sales? What’s the unique perspectives of operations, or of supply chain, or of HR?” And we talked about “How do those groups represent different stakeholders? And how are we fighting and advocating for different perspectives?”
If we can start upfront talking about what the tensions are supposed to look like, then we will lean into that conflict as, “Oh, it’s supposed to be like this” as opposed to what we think from those posters on the walls that we’re supposed to be like rowers and all pulling in the same direction. It’s really important to, upfront, normalize these kinds of tensions. If we can think about them as productive tensions, we’ll stop interpreting them as unhealthy friction which wears us down.
Josh: You just brought up one of my five things I focus on a lot and that’s values.
Josh: I do believe that everybody in the company needs to be rowing in the same direction, but I think you have to be rowing in the same direction based on what the values of the organization are not their personal preferences. You might get to a result in a very different way than I and your way of getting to a result may or may not be better than mine because of what it is. If we’re on a creative process, there aren’t many people who are going to out-create me in a creative process. But, when we get into designing systems or actually more implementing systems, there’s a zillion people who are better at it than I. What I learned in my food service days was, we had 90 employees, that conflict could either be constructive or destructive and it all came around the word respect.
Liane: It’s a good word.
Josh: Do you have any thoughts on that?
Liane: Many. More than can be contained in 23 minutes but let me be a bit sacrilegious. The word respect tends not to help very much. Let me tell you why. By background, I’m an organizational psychologist. I’m often helping people understand kind of how they’re wired and how they think.
It turns out respect – everyone will sign up for respect saying that, “That’s an important value. Let’s write it on the wall.” And then, when it comes to showing respect, it turns out a good chunk of the population defines respect as diplomacy, cautious and careful communication that protects the individual while discussing the issue – that kind of version of respect.
Josh: That wouldn’t be my definition, even close.
Liane: Right. It wouldn’t be yours. It is many, many, many peoples. We have a psychological assessment tool to assess that. That’s how they grew up. That’s what they learned is respectful.
In the same room, you have people who believe just as strongly in respect. And respect, to them, is candor. It’s telling you what you need to hear. Those sorts of things.
When I am called in to help a dysfunctional team, often they’re all yelling at me telling me that the other people are being disrespectful and how important respect is. The problem is they haven’t gotten around a table to talk about, “Look, the family I grew up in, the way I’m wired, I expect to be shown respect in this way and I demonstrate respect in this way” and for them all to realize that respect is not a very helpful word on a team because we have such hugely different definitions of it. I’ll use it a lot so that we can actually clarify that big problem.
You see the issue is if I gave you the word respect, or personal responsibility, or rights, or even sustainability, there’s a really good chance your definition will be different than my definition.
Liane: Yeah. Yeah, absolutely.
Josh: So, just having a value is completely useless, whatever value word you use.
Josh: If you don’t have a clarifying statement about what that word means, you are completely – I mean, completely wasting your time.
Liane: Absolutely. Absolutely.
I think understanding that even if you’ve done the work to make it behavioral, to talk about how that shows up in real life – even having the awareness and some empathy that these things are perhaps genetically baked into us but, for sure, baked into us from childhood. If somebody comes along and defines respect as being very candid, very direct in this company, and I’m somebody who, my entire life – I’m 47, if I’ve had 47 years of being rewarded for diplomacy, the just making it behavior is not going to be enough, that I’m probably going to mess up sometimes. The volume knob is probably only going to be at three or four, even after I’ve turned it up on the directness, so just being a lot more understanding and aware.
Having the conversation is the most important thing you can do getting more behavioral about it. Here’s what it looks like. And then, leaving some room to say, “Look, the joy of life is the diversity of people we get to share the table with.” If some of them are going to go a little higher, more direct, and some are going to be a little more circuitous, sometimes, in how they share a point, we need to have room for that as well.
Josh: You see, I would say that the person that has, let’s say, respect means “I’m going to be very blunt and direct with you.” And I put that into my values statement for my company, and you’re joining my company and you ignore that, or even worse, I ignore it as a hiring manager because I need to be probing to make sure my values are solid for everybody that joins the company under the definition that our company has, not that you have as an individual.
My belief is and you’re probably going to disagree with me but if I say respect is one of my core values and it means I’m direct and honest with you all the time and your growing up with a sense of respect is, “I don’t ever say anything mean to you”, you should probably not join my company.
Liane: Yeah, I think that’s one option. I think a company can only have one or two things that are that strong, that they would actually weed out 30% of the labor force based on a value. It’s okay to have one or two things that are that strong.
What I would say is what I want to see is that you’re joining and you appreciate how important this is to us, that you’re going to make yourself uncomfortable working to be more direct than maybe would be your default, that you’re going to be very open to getting candid feedback. And so, I’d be looking for all of those things. I would say there’s not very many dimensions on which we can say, “If you don’t like it, it’s my way or the highway. And if you’re not the most blunt “hit-me-with-a-2×4” kind of person, we don’t want you in the company”, so it is–
Josh: Well, it’s not that we don’t want you in the company. It’s that you’re not likely to be successful in the company. If my culture is, “We tell you exactly what we think and you tell us exactly what you think” and you’re not willing to do that, you’re not going to be successful in the company.
Liane: Yeah. So, I think that interesting opportunity is to say, “You’re going to tell me exactly what you think. You may just arrive at telling me exactly what you think a little differently than I would.” Again, I think there’s one or two spots where you can say, “Nope, this is so important to me that I’m going whole hog on this one.”
And there are others where, I think, if every person in the organization is really far out the curve on that one and very blunt, they’re going to be scenarios where you wish you had somebody who was a little more diplomatic. There may be customer issues, or supplier situations, or PR, or places where you would love to have somebody who is gifted and skillful with a little bit of diplomacy. Diversity is a beautiful thing.
Josh: I would say it depends what your values are. For example, we have a value of simplification here which means we take the complicated, we make it simple. Now, if you like taking the simple and making it complicated, you are going to be a total 100% failure in my organization because that’s not what we do. We do the other stuff.
I actually am– and I have proven this over the years, is that by paying attention to values in hiring for values first – I’m not saying they’d have to go about it in the same way but you have to have the same values. So, if you value complication, don’t come to work at my company. It really helps weed out the people who are not going to be successful. And you’re going to spend a lot of time and effort trying to get these people to be successful in what is important for your organization and you’re likely to fail. That has been my experience. Anyway, that’s my [laughs]—
What is your top three or four things that you do to help manage conflict in a company?
Liane: Yeah, so that exercise I was talking about where we proactively, before the conflict, we actually normalize it. We talk about how it should feel uncomfortable here. If we’re all pulling hard enough, then it is going to be uncomfortable and that shows us we’re doing it right. But it should always be tension about the issues and not friction about the people. That’s one.
Another one would be teaching people how to, what I call, validate one another. One of the things that goes wrong in a lot of conflicts is we’re very self-centered as humans and we are very good at getting our own perspectives out and poor at hearing and being curious about other people’s perspectives.
One of the techniques that I teach people is, when somebody says something that you think is 180 degrees wrong, that instead of contradicting them, or making them feel dumb, or the things we all want to do like, “Are you kidding me?” Instead of that to say, “Okay, so, for you, you think this is – I’m trying to think of a food service kind of example, right. You think that we need to drop our prices by 20% to be competitive?”
I may be thinking, “Are you kidding me? We drop our prices. Our margins are toast. We’re out of business in six months.” That may be what I’m thinking but instead of that, to validate, you can either say something that’s very generic that just shows that you are willing to have the conversation like, “Wow, that’s a bold statement. That took guts to say that.” You could say something like that.
You could say something about how their perspective is different. “Okay, so that’s how it looks from the sales perspective. You would love to have prices that were 20% lower than our competitors.” Or just simply paraphrase it, right? You can just say, “Okay, for you, you think the key is to lower our prices.”
Our tendency is to want to do like that old beer commercial. Do you remember the Miller Lite commercials where they used to fight over “Tastes great, less filling” and they would fight over who was right? We often do that. We get into a tug of war.
What you want to do instead is actually validate the person. Do something that says, “I heard you, I get it, and I’m willing to have the conversation.” That’s first.
And then, the second thing you want to do is ask a question that shows you’re curious, and you’re interested, and you want to know more. You might say something like, “Okay, so what’s leading you to believe that its price that’s the most important thing versus value or something else?”
Josh: Or you could just say, “Tell me more.”
Liane: Yeah, tell me more is a great one, right?
Josh: One of my favorites.
Liane: I use it all the time. My teenage kids are very tired of “tell me more.” Yes, you can absolutely do that one.
Once you’ve asked a big open-ended question and really reflected back what you’re hearing and that sort of thing, then the way we work as humans is we tend to work on reciprocity. If we’ve listened to the other person, been interested in them, then when we say, “Okay, I get it. For you, it’s price. It’s a price sensitivity issue versus value or anything else. So, here’s how I see it from my lens. My lens is a little different because I’m looking at it from a marketing perspective and where we’re positioned. I see it as we can keep the price the same but we have to up the perceptions of the value of our product.” What happens is, because you’ve listened to them first, there’s a very strong likelihood that they’re going to be more open, more receptive to you.
This technique of first validate, then question, and then pivot is going to create what turns into a problem solving discussion as allies versus a fight as adversaries. You say, “Look.” And as you said, “We value the same things. We’re trying to grow this company. We’re trying to add great value for our customers, so let’s figure this out. What levers do we have? What role does price play? What role does value play? What else is in the equation?” That validate, and then question, and then pivot technique is a really successful one.
Josh: Yeah. I have a method of management I call the Socratic method of management which essentially is if you only ask questions, you’re probably a much better leader than if you seem to be telling people what to do.
Liane: Yeah, absolutely.
The problem with most leaders that go with this tell-them-the-answer approach is then people become dependent on getting the answers from the leader. These are often the executive teams who tell me that there’s nobody in the succession plan, nobody who could do their job. They have to work 80 hours a week because they can’t trust the people beneath them. I say, “Well, if you keep giving them the answers—
I always say, you can’t learn to drive from the passenger’s seat.” So, the Socratic method you’re using puts them in the driver’s seat. You’re the driver’s ed guy in the passenger’s seat asking good questions, saying, “Hey, do you see that up there? Or, what are you watching for now?” Much, much better technique. It makes the leaders life a lot easier in the end because you build capacity.
Josh: What you’re doing is you’re teaching somebody to fish and not giving them a fish, like teaching somebody to think by asking them questions and you’re forcing them to be responsible for what goes on in their world.
Liane: Yeah, you’re also managing their attention which is a big role of a leader, right? So, by what you ask and how you ask it, you teach them what they need to pay attention to. That’s a sort of a subcategory of how to think but it’s an important one.
“You know, these are things you need to pay more attention to as a leader. And these are the things you need to pay less attention to” because these days a lot of people, the challenges that they’re too diluted, too spread out over too many issues. As a leader, when you’re asking those great questions, you’re helping them say, “These are the things you really need to pay attention to.” That’s a great method.
Josh: Since I stopped screaming at people, that’s been my strategy for being a better manager.
What you described– and we’re going to have to end it here, is terrible delegators where somebody who doesn’t trust, doesn’t let mistakes happen. It’s the biggest reason that small businesses stay small because the owner never learns how to delegate. What they do is they have a bunch of helpers hanging around but they’re not good delegators. In other words, they can’t hand it all because they don’t trust, they don’t ask questions, and it is always somebody else’s fault.
Liane: I put a whole chapter and an appendix in The Good Fight about “How do I do an exercise with my team to focus the different levels of the organization on their unique value?” Here’s what the leader, the CEO, should be paying attention to. Here’s what the top team should be.
When you go through this exercise, you start to highlight the fact of micromanagement, if that’s what’s happening, or of a gaping capability, if that’s what’s happening. Your listeners can find this whole exercise. And I have all the templates for doing the exercise free on lianedavey.com, if they’re interested. It’s a great way of clarifying that. A lot of leaders do the exercise and then suddenly feel a little sheepish about maybe they’re the one that’s been– as I say, their busy-ness is a self-inflicted wound because they haven’t learned to delegate.
Josh: Liane, we are unfortunately out of time. I’m going to bet that there’s going to be some people or there should be some people who want your book. How do they find it?
Liane: They will find it everywhere. It’s called The Good Fight: Use productive conflict to get your team in your organization back on track. It’s on Amazon, Barnes&Noble, and everywhere around the world. And then, if they look on lianedavey.com, under The Good Fight, they’ll find all the templates and tools that are mentioned in the book that they can download for free and use with their teams. The only thing is the spelling, so I better do it. It’s L-I-A-N-E-D-A-V-E-Y.com, so two names, both hard to spell. The good news is it makes it easy to get the website URL.
Josh: That’s a good thing.
I also have an offer for you. I have a book which is called Sustainable: A Fable About Creating a Personally and Economically Sustainable Business. You’re going to learn the five things it takes to create an economically sustainable business. Really easy to get it, just go to www.sustainablethebook.com. If you happen to buy it there, I’ve written a 37-page how-to e-guide for what we talk about in the book. If you’re interested, I’ll give you a free 20-minute coaching call about an opportunity or a problem that you’re not taking advantage of or that you’re not dealing with effectively right now.
This is Josh Patrick. You’ve been with Liane Davey. You’re at The Sustainable Business. Thanks a lot for stopping by. I hope to see you back here really soon.
Narrator: You’ve been listening to The Sustainable Business podcast where we ask the question, “What would it take for your business to still be around a hundred years from now?” If you like what you’ve heard and want more information, please contact Josh Patrick at 802-846-1264 ext 2, or visit us on our website at www.askjoshpatrick.com, or you can send Josh an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Thanks for listening. We hope to see you at The Sustainable Business in the near future.