#WorkTrends Recap: The Secret to Conflict Without Casualties

Every team needs a little healthy conflict.

That’s not the kind of thing any HR leader would want to put on the break room wall. You’re not going to find inspirational posters about conflict.

But Dr. Nate Regier is on a mission to show people, including teams at work, that conflict is healthy. Conflict itself isn’t bad, he says; it’s all about how we respond to it. I asked him about harnessing the power of conflict, which he explores in his new book, “Conflict Without Casualties.

Conflict Isn’t Complicated

First, Dr. Regier says, we should stop and think about what conflict really is. It’s less complicated — and more pervasive — than you might think. “Conflict is simply the gap between what we want and what we’re experiencing, at any point in time,” he says.

For example, the gap could be that you want to be at work at 8 a.m. and instead, you’re stuck in a long line at Starbucks. Or it could be something more significant: You want to feel aligned with your team but you don’t.

“There’s conflict all the time, everywhere,” Regier says. “The first important thing is to simply recognize that and demystify it.” We need to begin by understanding that conflict isn’t good or bad.

Conflict Can Be Useful

Conflict gets a bad rap. Regier says that if you start typing the word “conflict” into Google, the suggested searches that come up are about reducing and managing conflict. “As soon as you see the word, everyone says, ‘manage it, mediate it, reduce it, control it,’” he says. “We have this myth that conflict is bad, and that people always get hurt, so we need to make it go away. But conflict is energy. And if we get rid of the energy, then we’re just left flat, bored and uncreative.”

A lot of people hate conflict, and avoid it at all costs. But Regier says avoiding conflict is unhealthy — and has negative consequences in the long run.

He says he worked with someone who said, “Well, I just avoid conflict. I just don’t do it.” When he asked what she did instead of facing conflict, she said, “I don’t sleep well, I’m preoccupied, I fume, I gossip.”

Avoiding conflict does affect us. “We’re spending that energy one way or another, whether we’re tackling the problem or whether we’re stewing, and gossiping, and avoiding. We have a real energy crisis here. Conflict is an unbelievable source of energy, but we’re misusing it. And there are just so many upsides if we can start thinking differently,” he says.

How We Respond to Conflict Matters

So how can we engage in conflict in a healthy way? Regier says we should think about how we approach the core struggle in every conflict situation.

“We are struggling to close that gap and get what we want, and to reconcile those differences. We can struggle to close that gap against each other, in an adversarial way. And then that becomes drama, because there’s a winner and a loser. Or we can struggle with somebody to create something, and that’s what we call compassion.”

“Most people think compassion is caring, sympathy, ‘my heart goes out to you,’” he says. “But really, compassion, if you go to the Latin root, means ‘to suffer with.’ ‘Com’ means alongside, or with, and ‘Passion’ means to suffer or struggle. So, ‘compassion’ means to struggle with, which is the exact opposite of ‘drama,’ which is to struggle against.”

Once you decide to take the compassionate route and struggle together, it’s important to get clear about what we really want. Instead of saying, “I want you to stop yelling at me,” dig deeper and think about what you’re really asking for. What you want is to feel safe, valued and connected. And if you can identify that and talk about it, you might be able to work together to figure out how to make that happen.

When Regier works with teams, he looks at how their everyday processes and procedures either reinforce the healthy rules of engagement around conflict or reinforce drama. How do they talk to each other, write memos to each other and work together every day? Are they struggling with each other or against each other?

This work is incredibly important for all businesses, he says. “The next generations are very disillusioned with capitalism because they’re seeing casualties of conflict. I think businesses have a huge opportunity to show the next generation that we can balance compassion and accountability and pursue business goals while making a positive difference in people’s lives. And there don’t have to be human or environmental casualties in the process.”

I’m in — what about you?

To learn more about healthy responses to conflict, check out Dr. Regier’s book, “Conflict Without Casualties.

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

In 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 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

In 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 you started 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 involves making 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.

photo credit: The Three Stooges via photopin (license)

Why Do We Have Workplace Culture Clashes? #TChat Recap

It’s the way we organize the universe.

We categorize and label everything; there’s just too much stuff out there and in our heads to manage otherwise.  We’d be blathering fools if we didn’t.

Sure, Mr. Steve Levy and I would agree that there are still too many blathering idiots in the world today, regardless of how organized they are, and they span generations.

Don’t look at us that way.

Generations — those categorizations we give to groups born over specific timeframes, like the Traditionalists (the silent generation), Baby Boomers, Gen X (the me generation, which is mine), Gen Y, Gen Z…

The over-arching question last night on #TChat was:  Do generations matter at work? The easy answer for most of those who participated was no, even though for many of us we know the answer is still unfortunately yes.

Kind of.

We expect the Traditionalists to be non-technical and Gen Y and Z to be, well, androids.  But that’s not the case — my 78-year-old dad is pretty darn good with computers, while I’ve met some young folk who couldn’t find their bottom from a hole in the ground (that’s my dad talking, not me).  No Justin Bieber fever here, and never in 3-D.

We expect our elders to be the more seasoned and smarter leaders and mentors in the workplace today, but there have been plenty of less experienced and younger, more emotionally intelligent leaders and mentors who’s impulse control trumps that of fallible old folks.

Don’t look at me that way.

Which is why mentoring shouldn’t be based on the supposed pro-rookie partnership; it should encompass bi-directional ages and experiences of all kinds.

Of course I’m speaking in generalities, but that’s the way I keep the universe organized.  The reality is we try to wrap macros around that which is unique to an individual, and when you try to wrap your head around that, you can get blathering-idiot syndrome.

But that’s now we’re supposed to recruiting and hire and develop — based on what is unique to the individual that helps to fill a specific role in a company.  I really liked the way Jillian Walker summed it up last night:

Recruit > hire on ability; Engage > determine wants; Manage > be flexible; Lead > push their limits, encourage best of the best.

Hey, the opacity in the world and the workplace is getting thinner, allowing for more of the now clichéd “transparency” to light our way.

The new transparency allows the light to shine where it never shone before.  Now, that’s not always a good thing, but more often than not, it keeps most of us honest when it comes to revealing our experience and knowledge and where the “skills” gaps are (LinkedIn profiles, blogs).  Although this is a stereotypical trend since most younger generations brought up online and in social media embrace transparency easier than older generations.  And there are still lots of folks who don’t play online, across generations.  Just check out the stats and demographics at Pew Internet.

Because we label is why we have workplace culture clashes, which is why I prefer Gen Zen, especially in our highly integrated work/life globally dispersed worlds.

I agree with Matt Charney and how he put it all together in his preview:  It  turns out that generations in the workplace share more in common than a workplace.

Indeed it does.

Mercy, it was a record turnout last night on #TChat — over 300 fine folk participated during the hour.  Thank you everyone!  Check out last night’s transcript and here were the questions we asked:

  • Q1)  What myths exist about workplace generational dynamics? Generational realities?
  • Q2)  Are there emerging personality traits, skill sets for hiring GenY, GenX, Baby Boomers, etc.?
  • Q3)  Who is currently the most “invisible” generation in the workplace and why? Most “visible”?
  • Q4) How do savvy workplace cultures recruit, engage, manage and lead all generations?
  • Q5) How does new media and global connectivity help/hinder generational gaps in the workplace?
  • Q6) How can inter-generational workforces spark innovation and evolve culture?
  • Q7) How does the term “reverse mentoring” help bridge generational divides in the workplace?

Thanks again everyone for joining us last night!  We’re taking next week off (March 8), so we’ll see you the week after on March 15.

Join the conversation live every Tuesday night as co-hosts with Kevin Grossman and Meghan M. Biro from 8-9 PM E.T. via @monster_works and @MonsterWW.  Hope to see you next time on March 15 at 8 PM ET for #TChat!