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Do you avoid conflict at all costs? Do so at your peril, for conflict is required to be productive, says Dr. Liane Davey, business consultant and New York Times bestselling author of The Good Fight. Discover how to approach conflict using the Conflict Code, how trust issues are usually alignment issues in disguise, and how to stop carrying that grudge against your colleague and have a productive conversation.
Book: The Good Fight
Bio: Dr. Liane Davey is a New York Times Bestselling author, a regular contributor to the Harvard Business Review, and the host of the ChangeYourTeam blog. As the co-founder of 3COze Inc., she advises on business strategy and executive team effectiveness and has worked with executives at companies such as Amazon, Walmart, Aviva, TD Bank, and SONY PlayStation. Liane has a Ph.D. in Organizational Psychology and has served as an evaluator for the American Psychological Association’s Healthy Workplace Awards. Liane is married to her business partner, Craig, and they have two teenaged daughters.
This transcript is unedited.
Peter: Here with us today is Liane Davey. She has written the book the good fight, use productive conflict to get your team and organization back on track. I’m delighted to speak with Leanne because I think conflict is a super interesting topic. And it’s something that we avoid and she saying stop avoiding it because you’re doing yourself a disservice, which many of us kind of know. And at the same time we kind of can help ourselves but avoid it in many cases and for people who really like it maybe we will learn something about how to do it in a really productive way. So Liane, welcome to the Bregman leadership podcast.
Liane: Thanks Peter. I’m thrilled to be here.
Peter: Liane, why is conflict good and why should we pursue it?
Liane: So in some ways I would say conflict isn’t good or bad, it’s just required. If you think about trying to live life particularly life in an organization, conflict is something you need to work through. So I bet your listeners have had multiple conflicts just today already, no matter what time it is. So, you know, maybe it’s where do I find time to listen to the Bregman leadership podcast and I could listen to this or I could listen to something else. What’s the best use of my time? People are sitting in a meeting and the presentation they’re watching isn’t very good. Should they say something about it? Give feedback or should they just let it slide? Which email do I respond to first? How do I prioritize? All of those are conflicts that you have to deal with just at work in a given day. So it’s not good or bad, but if you think about it, if all of those conflicts are coming up and you’re avoiding them, that’s when we get into trouble. If failing to prioritize causes us to work too hard or do poor quality work, diluting ourselves across too many things, failing to give feedback leaves the person continuing to do a poor job. So it’s avoiding conflict. Conflict is, you know, is always gonna be…
Peter: Do you put those two conflicts in the same bucket? Like the conflict that I might struggle with myself about where, how to prioritize my work versus the conflict of sitting in a meeting which isn’t going well and thinking, you know, I should interrupt this and move it in a different direction. Do, do you, are those the same in your perspective?
Liane: They’re not the same. Where they become much more similar is if prioritizing your work has an impact on someone else. So as soon as the conflict touches another person then it adds all the really challenging stuff. So if I’m trying to prioritize, do I do the thing you’re counting on me to do or the things somebody else’s counting on me to do? Well that’s where now we’re into making choices that affect other people and that’s where we get the most uncomfortable with conflict.
Peter: Do you like conflict?
Liane: No, I hate conflict. That’s why I wrote the book. So, you know, they, they often say that you write the book, you need to read a wrote the book I needed to read and fly a version to conflict for my whole life all 47 years, including today. And I’m sure tomorrow is because I’m quite a conflict averse. And so I needed to figure out a way, a new way to think about it so that I could think about it positively and constructively. I needed to build my skillset over many years as a manager and as a leader, I needed to build my skillset. And then finally I had to hack a few processes that would allow me to kind of systematize and make a habit out of conflict so that I didn’t have to be having all these difficult or fierce conversations cause I don’t have the stomach for it. So no, this book is a product of somebody very conflict averse writing, writing a love note to herself of you need to do this. You big slacker.
Peter: I love it. And my books are things I need to learn as well. And it actually occurs to me as I think about it, you know, the, the sort of cultural issues related to conflict. So I just want to put those on the table. Like there are some cultures I imagine that are much more comfortable with conflict than others. And you know, I mean, I don’t want to stereotype, but you are Canadian. And so, you know, like I, I imagine you know, you’re in an environment in which you’re not the only person who’s conflict averse
Liane: You imagined correctly. And we have our own special breeds. So most Americans I talked to think Canadians are really nice and I have to quickly disabuse them of that notion before they get wounded because we’re actually very passive aggressive. So Canadians are very polite and very civil, but don’t turn your back because we you know, we still have all the same conflict as anybody has. We’re just not good at dealing with it face to face. And so we tend to be quite passive aggressive. So culturally, and I hear the same is true of those who are Minnesota. Nice. So I hear we have lots of regional friends in, in the U S who kind of have that same, same sort of culture. But yes, it’s, there are cultural norms around conflict, but I’ve been doing a lot of work in Silicon Valley lately thinking that this would be a place where they’d be good at conflict and not at all. So there are some common human traits around conflict [inaudible] and as I give speeches in different locations and people talk with me from all around the world, they say no, we struggle with all these same sorts of things too. So there’s a range and, and some folks are more comfortable being quite direct with issues than others, but you know, very few people are really good at it.
Peter: Okay. So you you have this concept that I really like of that I resonate with of conflict debt. Can you share the idea?
Liane: Yeah. I was trying to figure out how to talk about the cost of avoiding conflict. And it, it dawned on me that it’s very much like when we get into credit card debt, so if you think about there’s a situation you’re in and you know, maybe your air conditioner breaks and it’s, you know, it’s 90 degrees out and you can’t really afford a new air conditioner, but you just think I gotta have it. And so you put it on your credit card and you tell yourself a great story about how you’re going to pay it off. You know, as soon as the next paycheck comes in, but then other things come up and you carry that debt from month to month and it starts to compound. And, and as that debt compounds, it becomes, it can become debilitating. It’s something like 70% of Americans carry their credit card debt from month to month.
Liane: So now think about a situation. Maybe it is that meeting where somebody’s getting a presentation and it’s really terrible and you think, Oh, I can’t stomach right now. I don’t have time to get into an argument. I gotta run to another meeting. I’m just gonna keep quiet. And it’s just like putting it on your card. You, you start to accumulate that debt and you think, Oh, you know, when, when I’m not busy, which is my favorite line in 2019, right when I’m not busy, I’ll deal with it whenever that’s going to be. Or when cooler heads prevail, or we tell ourselves these great stories about how we’re going to come back and we’re going to deal with it and we don’t. And the problem is then the animosity starts to build up. We start to create adversarial relationships and sometimes we have adversarial relationships with people that they don’t even know that we’re carrying a grudge against them. A grudge is is just a typical form of conflict debt.
Peter: Yeah. And it seems like also when the more debt we carry, the harder it is to pay it off. Meaning if I’m, if I’ve been annoyed with you and it’s been several weeks, it’s much harder to shift behavior and engage in a productive conflict at that point.
Liane: Yeah. So I give a thought experiment to help people see why that’s the case. So I tell this story about, okay, your boss says you have to send out this draft of your presentation to everybody on the team. And you know, the first person to respond is that person that you’ve been carrying this grudge against and you open their email and it says, I got the draft you sent, I caught a couple of mistakes and I’ll come by your office at three o’clock to share some ideas. And, and as soon as you get that message, your reaction is like, Oh, you caught some mistakes. Digico Oh sure. Smart hands. And you know, of course you think you can make it better. We have this adversarial reaction to that email. But if you had dealt with the grudge, if you had got back on good term, if you you know, had strong trust for the person and you open an email that says, I got the draft presentation, I caught a couple of mistakes, I’ll come by your office at three o’clock was some ideas.
Liane: Then your response is that you’re filling up the candy jar on your desk and you’re saying thank, thank goodness you caught those mistakes. And so when we carry a grudge, every interaction we have after that we see through the lens of a mistrust, we interpret neutral behaviors as conflict as problematic when we would have interpreted those exact same things as positive or constructive if we weren’t carrying conflict at. So the stakes are really high. And of course the problem is you don’t get the exact same email from two different people so that it can become obvious that, Oh I’m just holding a grudge. You honestly think that email was either really helpful or really antagonistic. So the stakes for this are extremely high. If you’re carrying that conflict debt, you are no longer objective about pretty much every interaction you’re having from then on.
Peter: So you have this conflict code, establish a line of communication, create a connection and contribute to a solution. Could you lay it out for us very briefly cause then I want to kind of engage with it a little bit but get, you know, help listeners understand the basic three steps in your process.
Liane: Yeah. So, so the best way to understand it is to understand what we normally do, which is backwards. We’d normally try to get to the solution first. And when you try and get to the solution first, basically what it says to the other person is, I want my way, I want my idea, I’m going to, you know, promote my truth. And that’s where we get into adversarial situations in a tug of war. So what we want to do is turn that on its head and we want to establish a line of communication first, which is I’m really trying to say and signal with both what you say and how you hold your body and how you interact that I want to actually have this as a conversation. And there are a bunch of things in the book around how to do that, but you know how to share.
Liane: So I give some tips about ways to share a point of view that are less likely to make someone defensive. So you want to establish that line of communication. Secondly, you want to create a connection and creating a connection happens by validating the other person, giving them signals that you’re listening to them, that you’re taking their question or their point of view into account. You’re asking them questions, you’re reflecting. And all of the value of creating a connection is then all of a sudden what you’re doing is you’re going to solve a problem as allies rather than fight as adversaries. So that creating a connection state where you validate, I kind of summarize it as you want their truth to come out of your mouth before your truth does. And as soon as that happens, they go, Oh, okay. They get it. They get me.
Liane: This is actually going to be, we’re going to have to solve this problem, but it’s only solving a problem. It’s not having a fight. And then you can contribute to a solution. And by the time you get to that point it’s kinda like doing algebra. It’s like, okay, we’ve got a couple of unknowns and a couple of equations we go solve for this. It’s actually not very difficult. Where most people go wrong is that they try and assert their solution right from the get go. People feel invalidated, they don’t feel heard, and then they get defensive. So that’s the three steps. In a very short,
Peter: Let me ask you a question because I, cause there’s this piece that may be, it’s part of established a lot of communication or maybe it’s before that, which, and I kind of want to just check this with you because it’s something that, that I do and that I feel is very useful and I’m, and again, I’m curious to get your perspective, which is there’s this sort of framing the issue piece, which is to say, if you and I have a conflict, it’s about you and I and it’s a, and it’s harder to get to the solution then if we that than, than if I frame the conflict in terms of maybe what we’re collectively trying to achieve. So meaning if I think you’re talking too much in a meeting and I say, Hey, you know, you’ve got a problem. Or I could say I could make it softer and say, Hey, we’ve got a problem or before Eve or we have an issue where I want to talk to you about that.
Peter: But if we actually say, look, let’s, let’s start with what we’re both trying to achieve, which is, you know, a smooth client meeting in which they, you know feel open and courageous in the conversation with us given that, given that objective, which is the frame given what we’re both trying to achieve given the sort of we in that situation, then I want to talk about my view of how we’re each showing up in that and what’s helping us get there or what’s making it harder for us to get there. Where would you put that and first of all, would you even agree with it?
Liane: Yeah, I agree. And you can put it in a couple of places. If it is someone that you have pretty decent trust with, that’s going to come up in the establish a line of communication. So the first step I call engage, and the second I call share, it’s going to come right up there at the beginning where you say, Hey, let’s engage on this. Let’s talk about how we get to this mutually beneficial outcome for the client. So if you have a good relationship in the first place, if something doesn’t come at you as an attack, then you can put it in upfront. If you are dealing with someone where there’s already a lack of trust, there’s already trepidation, you know, the, the situation is heated, then you’re going to want to do a lot to sort of listen to their perspective on the issue. Find out as a, instead of you asserting, here’s what this is about and you’re going to want to move
Peter: In my situation, what would you ask? How would you do that?
Liane: Yeah. So what are we trying to solve for here? What do we need to accomplish? What’s the most important thing we have to achieve in this meeting from your perspective? So instead of starting with your truths, start with asking them about theirs.
Peter: So if you don’t already have trust with the other person, this is sort of where I struggle a little bit. Cause if you already don’t have a deep connection or trust, it almost feels like it’s too late in that single conversation in order to do it. Because if you say, if you asked that question, does it feel a little disingenuous? I mean are they sitting there going, look, I know you have a point to make. Just make your point and, and you’re asking the question knowing you have a point to make. I guess my question is does this land a little hollow or, or do you know or, or, or could you offer us some techniques so that it doesn’t,
Liane: Yeah. So the first thing to say is I share the proverb in the book. Don’t wait until you’re thirsty to dig a well. Right. and so that’s exactly what we’re seeing here. You don’t want to be in the situation at work where you are in a situation of mistrust and then needing something, you know, that’s, that’s a bad situation. So so let’s first say there’s a lot in the book about how you establish trust proactively.
Peter: I’d love to hear a couple of those because I think the challenge for most people probably who are listening is the conflicts with people who they totally have trust with are much easier to engage in. Like you can just sit down with someone you know, and you trust and you go, Hey, we have an issue. Let’s talk about it. It’s, it’s the, it’s the people that they don’t have the established trust with, where it’s much harder to jump in and go, Oh, you know, or where that trust is starting to fall apart because of the conflict that it’s much harder to, to then actually engage in the conflict and, and start it. So I’m kind of curious for some techniques around that.
Liane: Yeah. So trust exists kind of at four levels. At the base level, it’s about just a basic human connection. So at trust in our brains is really about predictability. So things you can do to establish trust proactively at the connection level is just, you know, sharing some personal information with someone, learning things, asking things about them, understanding their habits, understanding what they do under pressure all those sorts of things and, and sharing with them. So I share on my West site, a tool I call the owner’s manual. So it’s like a conversation you can have with somebody about, you know, what’s your owner’s manual, what, you know, how do you like things to happen, how do you prefer to communicate, you know, all those sorts of things. So, yeah. So, so sharing your owner’s manual with someone is a great way to build a stronger connection. Next level of trust is about credibility. [inaudible] That idea.
Peter: I love that idea. But also if I’m in a conflict with someone and I’ve seen this happen where, you know, I’m watching two people and they’re saying, here’s what you need to know about me if you tell me to do this was literally, I was watching this conversation. If you tell me to do something, yeah, they were colleagues. If you tell me to do something, then I’m, I’m going to resist because I don’t like you telling me to do stuff. But if you ask me to do it, I will do it every single time. And, and so that’s like I’m sharing my owner manual and the response was, you are super high maintenance. And like I have to say things in a very particular, like if, if you know you need to do it and I’m telling you to do it, then just do it. You know, like, like it’s because there wasn’t that trust already. The request to say, ask me with these words are like, throw your hands up and you go, are you kidding me? Like I got to use specific words to turn you on. Like we’re senior leaders in an organization, just do your job. So
Liane: Yeah. Yeah. Well it’s a, it’s a great point, right? So I think the more and engaging in that and expecting somebody else to change their behavior and new you not being willing to change, yours is a really bad place to start.
Peter: Right? So how would you handle that conflict? What would you do in that situation?
Liane: Yeah, so I think the better way to give the feedback would be when you tell me to do something, I have this natural reaction to someone trying to control me and it slows me down and I get, I get in my own way and you know, it just, it makes me a lot less efficient, you know, are there, are there other ways, like you can say, I’m, I’m working on that and you know, just so you know, this is how it happens for me. So as opposed to saying, I need you to do it differently, it’s simply saying, I need you to know that this gets in my way, that this is gonna make it slower. I need you to know that if you want to go fast, the easiest way to go fast is this. But instead of telling the person you have to do this, all you’re doing is you’re giving them some new information about you and how, what makes you tick. And so it’s again less telling them what to do and more giving them insight about you. And that’s what we bristle at. And so
Peter: Can we role play this a little bit? Cause I think this is kind of fun and interesting and, and it’s very real cause it was very real. Yeah. So you say what you just said and I say I’m great, I’m really glad and we’ll just role play it. So I’m really glad you’re working on it because it really seems like it’s your issue and not my issue. So we’re both senior leaders. We both have jobs. If I got it, if you need to have something to tell me about a job I need to do, just tell me. And if I have to tell you about a job you need to do, I’m just gonna tell you. And let’s just agree. Like, if this is your issue, which you’re telling me it is, it would be great if you worked on it because I don’t want to pussyfoot around this.
Liane: So I, I am working on it. And just know that if there’s a where you need to go fast or where you’re not getting from me, what you need, then just know that this other path might get you there faster. And, and make sure after the fact you give me the feedback again, but in the moment it’d be need to go fast. I’m just giving you this insight that this might be a faster path. But, but do make sure that after the fact you, you give me the feedback so that I can keep working on it.
Peter: Can I give you the feedback and right in that moment, can I just tell you, Hey, you’re, you’re needing me to say things in a way that makes it happy for you, but just this is just your job. Can you get it done or not even can you get it done? Sorry. That would be asking you, this is your job. Get it done.
Liane: Yeah. So you know what’s easier for me is if we have some kind of a code word, cause if we can have a code word, I’ll probably laugh and I’ll laugh at my own ridiculousness here. So, you know, if we’re in that mode, I’m like, can you just say to me jump or something that because in that moment, then it’ll diffuse the situation and I’ll know I’m doing it again. So it’s a lot easier for me if we have some kind of a code word and that’ll signal to me and maybe I won’t be so defensive then.
Peter: Right. Great. So I could just say like, Oh, should jump be our code word. That might be, if it sounds aggressive, how about orange?
Liane: Yeah. So orange, that’s a great one. I love it. And then nobody else is gonna know. Yeah. Nobody else is gonna know that we’re actually having a bit of conflict here. We’re going to be like orange and it’ll be our thing and, right.
Peter: Perfect. Excellent. Awesome. So Leanne, let me ask you a question though. So now we’re stepping out of the role play. Thank you. That was, that was great. Totally works for me. I’m wondering if that really works for you. Meaning you’ve now like you, you may still be sitting with this thing going, this guy who’s my level in the organization is ordering me around and now he has a codeword and his code word can make me, you know, jump literally or you know, the orange he can make, you know, he’s, he’s like, I’ve given up my control to this person when in reality I don’t think he should be ordering me around. I think we’re colleagues. If he needs me to do something, I think he should ask me. So I’m just wondering if in that conflict you’ve given, and I’m just curious about how it feels for you, if you put yourself in the mindset, have you given something up that you shouldn’t be giving up in, in, in the communication?
Liane: So I think this conflict like most, so the reason it’s a great example is because it has multiple parts to it. And in, in one scenario, you can usually only cope with one part. But when I reflect on this after my orange conversation with you, I may think, Hey, you know what, that’s going to make it a lot easier for me in the moment, but it doesn’t solve for this issue that, what are you doing ordering me around? So I’m going to have to go back at it, say, you know, thanks for the conversation and I’m looking forward to putting orange to the test. But it, it really brought up something else for me, which is there are situations where I have priorities in my own role that can be in conflict with the things you’re asking me to do. And they’re going to be times when I can’t just do it.
Liane: And I think we need to go back and revisit our, our priorities, our shared priorities, maybe the decision rights on some of these things. So, so what’s actually happened in this scenario is there’s one component of it that’s about trust and about the relationship, but there’s another component about it that’s another component that’s really about alignment. And role clarity and decision rights. And that’s extremely common. So one of the things I talk a lot about is when I come into a toxic team, so commonly what is manifesting as a trust issue is actually something that started as an alignment issue and it’s that we weren’t clear who got to make that call, who right. Who was in charge. And then because of that, now I’m thinking you’re a jerk because you keep ordering me around, but you thought that you had the right to tell me what to do and that you had the decision making power there.
Liane: So it was actually a misalignment issue. So this is a great example where in the moment when you’re flustered and you’re in a conflict, you’re kind of dealing with this orange situation that don’t order me around. But with the little sober second thought, you realize actually there is a more important, more systemic kind of issue here, which is we haven’t been clear about how our two functions work together. We haven’t been clear about whose priorities Trump, you know, which other ones or, or what actually is the priority for our boss. And we need to revisit that. So the language that I really encourage people to use is, Hey, you know what, I’m really glad we solved for you know, kind of our interactions, but I don’t think we’ve solved for this other question. You know, can we take some time and maybe we need to do it in a team meeting or maybe we need different people in the room, but I think we need to spend some time talking about our priorities, our shared priorities.
Peter: Yeah, I think that’s profound. I think this idea that trust issues are often alignment issues is really important and the lack of alignment ends up breaking down trust and, and it’s kind of why I like starting a conflict with that frame of like, what is it that we’re trying to achieve here or what, you know, like what’s, what’s our collective aligned goal that we’re pursuing that this conflict is in the context of. But I really, I think it’s, I just want to underscore that point that you just said because it feels super important, which is, you know, if you’re misaligned then every conflict is, is probably going to end badly because you’re, you know, you’re having two different conversations. If, you know, if I think I’m focused on one thing and you’re focused on another, literally we’re talking two different things and we’ll probably, you know, be hard to resolve that conflict.
Liane: I would say 80% of the situations, the conflict situations I ended up having to facilitate. It turns out they’re not in conflict at all. The two people are advocating passionately, loudly, sometimes aggressively for their position, which is not in conflict with the other person’s position. It’s just solving for a totally different problem. And so in the book I talk about the technique, I called two truths, which is just say, okay, so your truth is X, we gotta solve for this because of this, and write it on a whiteboard. You know, get up, write it down. When you write someone else’s words on a whiteboard, it is so validating. It calms them down. And then you say, okay, as I’m listening carefully to you, you know, this is your truth. This is what we need to solve for. And, and now I realize I don’t think we’re actually in conflict.
Liane: I’m talking about this. This is totally different. I need to solve for this. So this is, when I say it’s that now it’s algebra, right? You’re like, okay, you got this equation and this unknown and I got this equation and this unknown. Now we just got to figure out, and so when I said that, sometimes you don’t get to the higher order problem until the third step. That’s because if it’s really adversarial, they don’t yet know that you actually have a common goal and they’re not ready to hear it. So if you can say their truth first for you all you care about, what you’re really focused on is solving for this. I’m solving for this. Now we can go up a layer to say what’s a solution that can actually work for both of those things being true. So if, if people just, I just would love if your listeners would remember that.
Peter: Yeah. And what if even in the alignment piece, there’s a piece where actually I’m arguing for this because it’s in my best interests and it’s not really in the other person’s best interest, but, but I like I can argue that it’s in the collective’s best interest and probably the other person could argue that it’s in the collective’s best interest. But but you know, there’s, but I’m, but I know that this one advantages me do you suggest that the person’s just totally upfront about that?
Liane: So ideally if we could be more upfront. So people will often say things like, let’s take self interest out of it. You’re like, dude, we’re humans. Like we’re animals. That’s not going to happen. So just be upfront about it. Here’s what I’m worried about. I’m worried that that’s shrinks the size of my team and then I’m not going to have the resources I need to be successful. I’m worried that prioritizing that project puts me on the back burner and I’m just going to be twiddling my thumbs for the rest of the fiscal year.
Peter: The danger. And I mean, I love that. And, and I also perceive a danger to it, which is the other person could say, look, stop focusing on yourself and start focusing on what’s best for the organization. Or I mean it’s very easy to get labeled in that way as, as sort of, you know, selfish or not a team player. Even if other people are doing the same thing. But if they’re not admitting it, then suddenly you’re out on a limb. Like it feels like it’s important to have willing partners in that conversation or am I missing something?
Liane: Yeah, I think it, it, I, I don’t go to that all the time because you’re right. Like certainly some people could. What I go to is a stretch. So, so in chapter six of the book, there’s a section called conflict strategies for nice people and conflict strategies for nice people. One of them is a better version or a safer version of that, which is before you make any decision, you just go around the table and say, you know, what are the factors that you think we need to consider in this decision? And so you won’t get the same, quite the same kind of personal stuff. Like you’re shrinking my, my team, but you will get people’s values being reflected into the criteria. So I tell the story of a big company where the, the leader of their biggest business unit, sort of $1 billion business unit, his he was bleeding money.
Liane: So his P and L was in the red and he wanted to do a downsizing because he felt personally ashamed and embarrassed to present to the board numbers that were in the red. Like he was mortified by this. And, and the CEO was just as mortified at the thought of downsizing and really ruining the culture and the mojo of the company. And it was, it was both business, but it was very personal for both of them. So we just had to kind of go around and say, Hey, you know I, one of the criteria for me is we get my business in the black. We’ve got to find a way to, to show a profit in. The CEO could say we got to protect the culture, and and as they did that other folks started chiming in and saying, guys, you weren’t even talking about how this is going to be perceived by our customers if we do a downsizing.
Liane: We’ve got to think about that. So as you go around, you don’t even let people talk about options. You simply talk about what do we have to factor in as we make this call and you get the criteria first. That conversation really starts to elicit some of the values you start to get at some of the more emotional layers. So it’s a safer way of doing the same thing, which is to start to consider what do we have to think about and what do we have to solve for as we’re choosing our solution and our path forward here you’ll get to some really good stuff doing that without being quite as vulnerable as, as being authentic and open and transparent about your self interest.
Peter: And maybe another way of doing it also is I like that. And, and also to make that a part of the meeting, meaning to say, let’s go around as we’ve talked about these ideas and look at how it will personally impact each of us. And, and, and so then it becomes, you know, a structural part of the conversation as opposed to me taking the risk and you know, and, and, and someone else, not necessarily reciprocating.
Liane: There’s a technique, it’s funny, kids do it at summer camp. At the end of the day they do this thing called Rose and thorn and they have to say the Rose, you know? Right. What was the best thing of your day? The bud? What you know, what, what are you looking forward to? What’s possible in the thorn? And I saw it recently, we were at I was at auto desk, the huge software company and it’s in their innovation strategy workbook as a technique. And I thought, you know, that’s another way you could talk about a solution. So what, what do you love about this? What, what’s possible? What, what’s are you kind of hoping is a possibility? And you know, what sucks, what’s prickly about this answer? So some version of that as well. So, yeah, any of these techniques and what’s good about Rosebud and thorn in that organization is it’s shared language.
Liane: Everybody has learned the technique. Everybody knows to do it. So you can kind of click into that mode easily. Anything on your team. And that’s what the third part of the book is about in the good fight is what are some of the habits and how do we systematize conflict? So it doesn’t feel like this, you know, horrendous, uncomfortable, sweaty Palm conversation. It’s like, Oh, okay, we got to do Rosebud thorn yet we all know how to do this. So as you build the conflict habit it becomes just much more natural, much less subversive till we get to the point where what we want is conflict to be very high frequency and very low impact. We’re working through the con just like how we, when we pay in cash instead of building up debt, right? Everything is high frequency, low impact. I’m just gonna pay it off.
Peter: So let, I want to sort of wrap this conversation up with a brief conversation about emotional courage, which is the willingness to feel and which I certainly think is, you know, underlies our ability to act. And I’ve written a lot about this. So all of this makes perfect intuitive and intellectual and conceptual sense. But to engage, to actually engage in conflict is scary, right? It’s scary. Like I, you know, there’s a million reasons why it’s scary, but it’s scary and you’ve experienced that yourself, right? This is why you wrote the book. So my question is how do we handle that element from your perspective? Like we can have all the knowledge and skill to engage in conflict. And then I’m sitting in a room with, you know, someone of a higher rank than me and I disagree with something or I think we’re moving in the right direction and there’s something I need to overcome in order to use all of these skills and knowledge and, you know, what have you learned about building your capacity in that moment to make that first move?
Liane: So the way I think about it myself, I don’t know if it’ll be helpful to people, but you know, I am conflict averse the same way I am, exercise averse. I hate exercising with a passion. And about five years ago I was really struggling. I was getting a sore back. I couldn’t stand and wait places and you know, facilitating eight hours a day, it was really uncomfortable. So I started exercising and I started working on my abs. And so the AB workout three times a week for 10 minutes, like doing plank, all that stuff, it’s so uncomfortable. I hate it. And five years later, I still hate it, but at some point I started to notice I can facilitate all day and I don’t get a sore back. I’m so much more comfortable. And so for me, all of a sudden I had the realization that I needed to think about conflict the same way.
Liane: What can I do in the next 10 minutes that will make my whole week more comfortable? So what I have to do in that moment is just remind myself that if I say that thing now and I, and I do think about how do I say it less assertively, more as an ally, what are the words I can pick? How do I say their truth first before saying mine? So there’s a lot that I have to sort of go through in my head about how to say it. But the biggest thing for me, the biggest hurdle to overcome is just deciding that I want to because it’s going to make my life less uncomfortable 10 minutes later. And it’s in a little bit of it. The first few times you just have to trust in it. But then once you’ve had it happen, then you know it’s true, right?
Liane: And people start to trust you more. They come to you because it’s exactly what your job in my job is, Peter. Right? People always say things to me like, I can’t believe you said that to the CEO. And you say, no. That’s why CEOs call me because I am the one who will say that. And so many other consultants, so many other people they work with just say what they want to hear and CEO’s pay top dollar to have people like you and me tell them what they need to hear. So once you have the experience, you know that people trust you more, they value you more that everything gets easier when you have the hard conversation. It’s just how do you do it the first two or three times when it’s taking your breath away, when your palms are sweating, when you feel like you’re gonna throw up, how do you do with that time?
Peter: Right? There’s an element of judgment. You’d have to just kind of jump and, and feel everything that you’re feeling in the context. And then have that jump be backed up with the skill which, which you can get from this book, which is called the good fight. Use productive conflict to get your team and organization back on track. We’ve been talking with Liane Davey who wrote the book. Liane, thank you so much. It’s such an interesting conversation. This is such an important issue. Thank you for being on the Bregman leadership podcast.
Liane: My pleasure. Thank you so much, Peter.