When you think about all of the sessions in LEAD 365, is there one that comes to mind as your favorite?

I’ve asked this of several people over the last three years, and I’ve been surprised at how different the answers are. For some it’s the first session and the DoKnowBe Tree. For others it’s the Feedback session, or Living Systems, or Purpose/Vision/Values. One of you said it was the Business Acumen day. This points out, once again, just how unique each of us is.

Of all the things we teach, do you recall what topic we say is the most important? Is it vision? Leading change? Public speaking? Hiring well? Firing well?

We believe the most important skill we teach, and expect you to work on throughout your career, is leaning into healthy conflict. Because we believe this, it’s worth reviewing every now and then, which hopefully will prompt you to continue to improve your ability to lean into conflict in a healthy way.

I’ll remind you of the model in a moment, but do you remember the two big reasons to get good at this? The second most important reason is to resolve issues. Lots of problems get resolved when someone is willing to calmly explore a potential problem with a person so that it might be improved.

In my opinion, however, the most important reason to learn to effectively engage disagreements is to build strong relationships. It seems like the opposite would result from someone who leans in when it’s uncomfortable, but I’m convinced that, over time, relationships get very strong when people are willing to put their observations, perceptions, and feelings on the table in a healthy way.

So here’s a simple version of the model:

  1. If I am the one initiating the difficult conversation, I take 30 seconds or less to share what I’ve observed, perceived, or felt, with regard to my concern. I do this in a straightforward and humble way. It’s easy for me to do this in a humble way when I remember the “Count the Fs” exercise. It helps me to remember that my observation or perception may be incomplete—maybe I’m not seeing all the Fs. It’s easy for me to do it in a straightforward way when I realize that this person—I’ll call him Charlie—might be totally unaware of my concern, and therefore have no chance of correcting the perceived problem without my input. This would be very unfair to Charlie.
  2. After sharing my observation, I seek to understand Charlie’s perspective on the issue. When I do this well, I don’t debate with him, I don’t defend myself, I don’t point out where he’s wrong; I just seek to understand how he sees it. This requires a lot of Q & L (questions and listening). I want to understand Charlie’s perspective AND I want Charlie to feel understood. I consider this deep listening to be an act of love, and most people receive it as such.
  3. After hearing Charlie’s perspective, I share my much more informed perspective, or put another way, I seek to be understood (I’m using the terms coined in Stephen Covey’s book, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People). My statement may include an apology for my misunderstanding of the situation, which I discovered in listening to Charlie, or it may be very similar to my opening perception. Either way, I now am more informed on the facts, and Charlie should feel cared for as I listened deeply to his perspective.
  4. At this point I try to assess if we agree about the issue or not. If we do agree, moving forward should be easy. If not, we may need to discuss how to disagree in the healthiest way possible.
  5. Then we explore how to go forward—you could call this a plan. The plan for going forward is often very obvious. An example would be, “I’ll start being on time for our meetings.” Other times the plan needs to be explored and developed together. An example might be, “What if I sit next to you in the meetings and nudge you under the table if I see that you’re starting to fall asleep? Would that work?”
  6. The final step is really important. You must follow through on any commitments you made in the healthy conflict conversation! This follow through should include whatever was called for in the plan AND some feedback on any change that you’ve noticed. If Charlie has improved on some behavior, like not sleeping in meetings, I need to let him know that I see the difference. On the other hand, if Charlie doesn’t follow through on what he agreed to do, then I will have to start the process over again. Sometimes the leaning into healthy conflict process takes more than one conversation to achieve the desired result.

I hope you found this review helpful.  Recently, I spoke about healthy conflict on a Price Associates podcast (Price Associates is my brother Ron’s company). The episode is embedded below if you’d like to listen and get even more review on how to handle conflict as a person worth following.

Lead well this week!

Image by honikum. Used under CC-BY-ND 2.0 license.